The message of the Advent Wreath

Christmas candles in wreath

Ed. Note: This article by William L. Pfeiffer first appeared 50 years ago in the December 1969 issue of the Moravian Magazine. Its message and meaning is still relevant a half-century later.

The Advent wreath is placed in the front of the sanctuary during the Christmas season. This is a kind of crown–a crown of love. It is properly located in the center of the chancel as it is also found at the heart of the Christmas story.

Often on the Advent wreath, there are to be found four candles which signify the four Sundays in Advent, or the four Gospel writers. But this Christmas the wreath with its four slender candles takes on a new meaning. These candles signify the four most vital aspects of the Christmas story. We see them now giving off their light to the most important elements in our personal lives.

The first candle is marked family

The small light this candle gives is enough to allow us to see Mary, Joseph and Jesus in Bethlehem in the stable. We see the lovely figures as they flee to Egypt; we see them in Nazareth in a little house adjoining a carpenter’s shop; we see them twelve years later journeying to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. In each of these pictures of the Holy Family, we see adherence of the words of Deuteronomy, “And you shall love the Lord your God; and you shall teach these things unto your children, when you lie down, and when you rise up, and when you walk by the way.”

In the light of this one candle we see that Christmas meets the deepest need and gets the greatest response from the family unit. There is something important in the fact that God chose to reveal himself most perfectly in a little child–a member of a family unit dependent for survival upon the other family members.

At the heart of Christmas is family.

The second candle is marked friends

The second candle gives us more light and we can see the shepherds, the wise men, the unknown messengers in the form of angels, Simeon and Anna in the temple, and all those other persons who surrounded the Holy Family with care and concern. As we read the Bible, we see in the light of this candle other friends surrounding Jesus: Peter and Andrew, James and John, Martha and Mary, Nicodemus and Zacchaeus, and even a little boy with five loaves and two fishes.

In the light of this slender candle we see Jesus, arms outstretched, saying, “You are my friends if you do what I have commanded you.”

In the light of this candle, we see that the best definition of the Christian church is “a family of friends.” The church is made up of a group of people who accept each other for who they are, in joy or in sorrow, because they are accepted by their divine friend,
Jesus Christ.

At the heart of Christmas there are friends.

The third candle is marked fadeless memories

With three candles glowing, we can see more clearly and more meaningfully the New Testament words: “And Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” In imagination, we see the picture of Mary, long after Jesus’ death and resurrection, treasuring the memories of the past; the first joyful realization that she was to be a mother; the journey, “even to Bethlehem”; the manger birth; then those years “when the child grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”

In the light of this candle, we realize that God’s gift to the human mind with its ability to think, to reason and to remember is the one thing that makes us different from the lower animals. The human mind makes possible joy, as well as nostalgia and grief.

At the heart of Christmas there are fadeless memories.

The fourth candle is marked faith

With the full light of all four candles, we can see the faith of the Old Testament. Moses said, “The Lord your God, he it is that does go with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you.” David said, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

In the light of this candle, we see clearly the faith of the New Testament: Simeon said, “Lord, let now your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation.” Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

In the light of this candle, we see that facts most usually represent the fulfillment of faith; and always, knowledge at its best is subordinate to love.

At the heart of Christmas there is faith.

This year, as you view the Christmas wreath, look at it in this new light. Four tall candles representing family, friends, fadeless memories, and faith. These candles are present to illuminate the pathway of every Christian. These candles even bring to mind the words of the prophet, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light, and they that dwell in the land of the valley of the shadow of death, upon them has the light shined.”

Konnoak Hills neighborhood shines with Advent Wreath sculpture

A unique sculpture gracing the Luther Street lawn of Konnoak Hills Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, N.C. shares the spirit of the season through the Advent Wreath.

The sculpture, entitled Anticipation, is a re-imaging of an earlier work that sculptor Chase Key presented to the congregation in 2010. The large piece depicts the four candles of Advent, with a large candle in th middle. Through the weeks of Advent, the wreath’s four outside candles “burn down” in anticipation of the center Christ candle’s lighting at Christmas. 

Key is a graduate of East Carolina University’s School of Art and Design with a concentration in sculpture. The work is dedicated to the memory of the late Gilbert and Helen Davis, Chase’s maternal grandparents, who joined the congregation in 1953, and to Konnoak Hills Moravian Church. It is also dedicated to the memory of Chase’s paternal grandmother, Macie B. Key, who lived one block away on the corner of Anderson Drive and Rhyan Avenue, and to the Konnoak Hills neighborhood.

Thanks to the Rev. John D. Rights for this article.