Most remember that the roots of today's Advent tradition go back to the early days of the Reformation when Martin Luther and other church fathers sought practical ways to make the Gospel message clear and meaningful, especially to children. Along with the Christmas Tree, the Advent Wreath was a great way to teach such things as the circular wreath being a symbol of Eternal Life as well as a royal crown for King Jesus, the prickly holly a symbol of His crown of thorns, the pine cones of rebirth and new life, the candles of God's Word lighting the darkness, etc., etc.
But as I reviewed what to share at church, there was a new aspect that I had not thought about before. It had to do with the Latin word from which we get the English advent.The word is adventus which means arrival or coming. What I learned, however, is that the etymology of adventus shows it is actually made up of advenio (arrival) and tus (a suffix that turns it into an action noun.) This means that the concept of advent is not a ho-hum type waiting, like waiting for the school bus to arrive. It is a much more active involvement, like sitting on the edge of your seat with great expectation. Think of the word adventure, which is also derived from the same Latin root. You embark on an adventure with great expectation that something exciting, unexpected, and remarkable might lie ahead.
Another great way to capture this concept of active waiting is to think of the five candles on the Advent Wreath as similar to a NASA countdown toward a rocket launch: 5-4-3-2-1. . . Every second ticked away brings you closer to the exciting climax of a BLASTOFF! In the case of the wreath, the five candles count off the weeks toward the celebration of the most remarkable event in all of human history--the arrival of the Christ Child, Emmanuel, God-with-us! And just like NASA uses countdowns to remember critical action steps in a rocket launch sequence, so too, the five candles provide important reminders of what Christ's coming means to us. The first candle is the Prophesy Candle with a focus on the Hope the prophets told us about. The second is the Bethlehem Candle with a focus on God's Love demonstrated by the incarnation. The third is the Shepherd's Candle with a focus on Joy, since they were the ones who heard the "tidings of great joy." The fourth is the Angel's Candle with a focus on Peace, from the announcement of "peace on earth, goodwill toward men." Finally, the last one is Christ's Candle, lit on Christmas Eve when we celebrate His coming as God's Light to a dark world.
Just like the Advent Wreath is a great exercise in waiting expectantly for the celebration of Christmas, it is also a wonderful reminder that we all still live in the tension of waiting for Christ's Second Coming which is still in the future. May all of our waiting for that ultimate event be an active adventus-type waiting with readiness and great expectation--since without doubt, God definitely has more ADVENTURE waiting for all of us ahead!