THE FIRST CANDLE OF ADVENT: HOPE
Readings: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25; 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2 and Luke21:25-38.34-36.
The first Sunday of Advent begins a new liturgical calendar, year C and year II for weekdays. Advent has its origin from the Latin word “Adventus,” meaning “Coming,” which is a translation of the Greek word “parousia”. It is a season of preparation for the celebration of God’s incarnation, that is, Christmas. In this season, we patiently and vigilantly wait for the coming of Christ. His coming in three dimensions: at incarnation, that is, historically Christ took flesh and dwelt among us; His coming Sacramentally, that is, He constantly comes to us in the seven sacraments; and His coming in Majesty, which expresses the second coming of Christ. The season is divided into two parts: From the first Sunday of Advent to 16th of December, which emphasizes on the second coming of Christ, that is, the parousia. While 17th to 24th December emphasizes on the coming of the Messiah in the flesh, the Incarnation.
This season of advent comes with a new look in the Church’s liturgy. The Liturgical colour is changed to purple or violet and the Advent Wreath, which is a circle of evergreen branches with four candles on it, is placed in a position visible for all to see. The circular shape of the Wreath that has neither beginning nor end symbolizes eternity of God, who has neither beginning nor end. It represents the immortality of the soul and everlasting life we find in Jesus Christ. Each Sunday, one of the candles is lit either before or at the beginning of the Mass. Practically we have four Sundays/weeks in advent and each candle symbolically represents each of the weeks.
The first candle symbolizes hope, otherwise known as the Prophecy Candle, the Prophets of the Old Testament full of hope that the Messiah will eventually come. The second candle symbolizes Love, also known as the Bethlehem Candle, a reminder of Mary and Joseph’s Journey to Bethlehem; the third candle is the Shepherd Candle, pink/rose in colour which symbolizes Joy; and the fourth candle is the Angel’s Candle, which reminds us of the Angel’s message of peace on earth and to men of goodwill. This is evident in the Angel’s visit to Mary, as we will see in the Gospel of the fourth Sunday. However, some Advent Wreaths include a fifth candle called Christ’s Candle, which is lit at Christmas Eve or Christmas day.
The Prophecy Candle reflects in the first reading of today through the prophet Jeremiah, who reminds us of waiting for the fulfilment of God’s promises. He says, “Behold the days are coming when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah…. I will cause a righteous Branch to spring forth for David… in those days, Judah will be saved and Jerusalem shall dwell securely.” These promises are about deliverance, blessings and restoration, being fulfilled in part under Ezra and Nehemiah, and it’s fulfilled in whole with the completion of the new covenant. The completion of the new covenant will come about through one Man, the Branch of righteousness, who will be a descendant of David. This prophecy of Jeremiah does not reveal as much about the coming of the Messiah as Isaiah does, but provides glimpses of Christ as the righteous Branch in Jer. 23:34 and the Redeemer in Jer. 50:34.
In the Gospel, Christ looked at the ultimate fulfilment of his return and the end of the age. He presented to us His return in two dimensions: First in Luke 21:25-26 where He spoke in a terrific way, with expressions of calamity to shake the earth before His coming. He said, “There will be signs in the sun and the moon and the stars and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves…” He assures us that these tribulations or calamities will not last forever because of His coming in glory. And that when these things begin to take place, we are urged to “Look up and raise our heads, because our redemption is drawing near.” The second dimension of His return is in Luke 21:34-36 where He said, “That day will come upon you suddenly like a snare.” The emphasis here is the importance of readiness at all times. He urges us to “Take heed to ourselves, watch and pray.” We must take heed because there are certain things that will make us unprepared for the coming of the Lord. While the first will have signs, the second will come suddenly. We can be caught-up in any of these, so let us be prepared. This is the message the first part of this season dwells on.
Beautifully, St. Paul in the second reading indicates to us a better way of preparation, when he said, “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men, so that he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father…” We are in a generation where the concept of ‘holiness’ sounds abstract to many people and seems unattainable even to some so-called Christians. To this effect, our idea of preparation has become one sided. We now have our preparations basically on the material level: latest fashion of cloths, hair styles/wigs, decorations, travel destinations, etc. However, our greatest preparation should be to welcome Christ in our hearts through the daily call to a life of holiness.
Dear friends in Christ, today’s liturgy reminds us that hope does not and will not fail us. We await in hope, the coming of Christ in glory, honour and power. So, in preparation for His coming, whenever we think of the decorations and lightening, we can give to our homes, streets and environments for this Christmas, let us go deeper by decorating and lighting up our hearts with virtues so that Christ can come quickly and dwell therein. Maranatha!
Happy New Year! Happy Sunday!
Fr. Ken Dogbo, OSJ