Light of love
Four Sundays before Christmas, Advent candles are lit in homes and in churches across the world. The candle in the centre of the evergreen wreath is lit on December 25 to proclaim joy and peace on earth.
Four candles around a bigger candle, mounted on an evergreen wreath are called Advent candles. Advent means "coming" and these candles are lit to celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ as a baby in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. They are lit in homes and in churches across the world, one on each of the four Sundays preceding Christmas day. The central one representing Jesus, the Light of the world, is lit on Christmas Day.
Candles glowing on an evergreen wreath once heralded the return of the sun on the shortest day in the dark midwinter of the northern hemisphere. The early Christians saw it as an appropriate symbol for the coming of "the Sun of Righteousness" and adopted it for their observance.
The first candle lit on the first Sunday in December represents the "People of God" waiting for a saviour. A prototype of the "People of God" is Simeon, a devout Jew living in Jerusalem in the closing years of B.C. He spent his time fasting and praying for the advent of the Messiah. One day, when he came into the temple, he saw a couple, Joseph and Mary bringing in their new born baby for dedication. The Spirit of God revealed to Simeon that this baby who had been named Jesus was the child born to bring salvation to the whole world. He took the baby in his arms and blessed God, saying "let your servant now depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen your salvation." The modern counterparts of the "People of God" would be the ones who meditate on the teachings of Jesus and look forward to his second coming.
The second candle lit on the second Sunday commemorates the Jewish prophets who foretold the coming of the "Prince of Peace." The most famous among them, Isaiah, was called to denounce the sins of the people. At the same time, he had a message of hope to deliver. If only the people would seek justice and correct oppression, God would send them a Wise Counsellor, a Prince of Peace who would enable them to shape a new future "where swords will be turned into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks." What a vision for world peace!
The third candle is pink in colour as opposed to the light purple of the other three candles. Purple is for penitence, while pink denotes joy. This candle is lit for John the Baptist who rejoiced greatly at the revelation that Jesus, his cousin, was the expected Saviour. His mission was to prepare the hearts of the people for the Lord, by calling them to repentance and to concrete acts of contrition. He asked the tax collectors to stop taking bribes, the soldiers to stop harassing people and the rich to be generous to the poor. John was a fearless prophet, ascetic in life-style and unafraid to call a spade a spade. He was uncompromising in condemning King Herod's sin in living with his brother's wife. He paid with his life for that. So this candle is for all martyrs down the centuries, including Gandhiji, the Father of our nation, who made the ultimate sacrifice in holding up the values of the Kingdom of God.
The fourth candle burns for Mary, a maiden who hears an angel telling her that she would be the mother of God - magnificent news because every young Jewish woman wanted to be the mother of the expected Messiah, but frightening too, as she was a virgin. Nevertheless in her acceptance of God's will she stands a symbol of obedience. Her story is the story of every woman who rejoices at the birth of her child but who has to learn to let go and sometimes even to keep a death watch over the loved one. This candle celebrates the courage of women who say "Yes" to God.
The big central candle is lit on Christmas day completing the circle of flame; as the glow spreads, a hush comes over the assembled worshippers. Suddenly the organ strikes a chord, and the congregation sings, "Joy to the world, the Lord has come." Yes, indeed He has come, to heal the broken hearted, to free the captives and to preach the good news of God's love for all people, and of His desire that we love one another as God loves us.
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