It’s the most wonderful time of year, isn’t it? And while some scoff at carols being sung on the radio before December 1, Christians throughout history have embraced this season of spiritual preparation using Advent readings—short Bible passages read during the lighting of the Advent wreath. This sacred time invites us to slow down from all the holiday preparations and parties, take a deep breath, and remember the reason for the season: the eternal Jesus Christ taking on human flesh. But how do all the different parts of Advent work together, and how can you incorporate Advent into your church or family life? That’s what this article will help you figure out, specifically guiding you through the practice of Advent readings.
What Are the Four Sundays of Advent?
If you’ve ever struggled to keep the four Sundays of Advent straight, you’re not alone. For hundreds of years, faithful Christians have observed the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day as a special time to prepare their hearts, but these practices have changed over time and place.
The first mention of Advent is found in ancient writings dating back to the sixth century, with some anecdotal mentions as early as AD 380 at the Spanish Council of Saragossa! So not only is it an old Christian practice, but it’s also a very personal one, as churches have adapted the practice to suit their local parishes.
So while there’s no authoritative guide to Advent, we can find some commonalities in the ways churches have practiced the observance of Advent throughout history.
Generally, the themes that correspond to each week fall into these categories:
Week 1: Hope (or promise)
Week 2: Preparation (or waiting or prophecy)
Week 3: Joy (or peace)
Week 4: Love (or adoration)
While the differences in weekly Advent themes may be confusing, we can unite in our desire to quiet our hearts during a hectic holiday season and worship Jesus. And the good news is that you can definitely mix and match these weekly themes with various Advent readings that will best serve your congregation or your family. There is no right or wrong way to observe Advent as long as you’re coming to God with a sincere and open heart.
Advent Wreath Candle Lighting Readings for 2020
Twinkling lights and candles everywhere remind us that Jesus is the light of the world that came to dispel the darkness. That theme of light is what originally gave birth to the Advent wreath hundreds of years ago in Lutheran Germany, and it’s become a beloved tradition in many churches and homes. The Advent Wreath is typically an evergreen wreath containing five candles, each lit on successive Sundays during the Advent readings. Some variations of the Advent wreath include different colors to correspond to different themes, while others keep the candles a simple white.
As it’s practiced in church services, the Advent wreath is usually lit at the beginning of the weekly service with its accompanying Advent reading from the Bible. However, many families choose to create an Advent wreath and set it on the dinner table or mantel, lighting the candles and using that family time to remind themselves and their children that the Christmas season is first and foremost about Jesus. Other families set the Advent wreath on their mantel. Again, the beauty of this tradition is that you can make it your own, as it suits you and your family.
As you’ve probably realized by now, the Advent readings themselves also vary among church denominations and traditions, depending on their weekly themes. Some churches, especially in Catholic traditions, read exclusively from the book of Isaiah, while other churches choose passages that correspond to the weekly theme, from either the Old Testament, New Testament, or the Psalms.