Fr. Francis Afu
He simply is. The evergreen plants represent the everlasting love of God. It is the love that creates us, redeems us, and makes us ever fruitful. The five candles that are lit in the Advent wreath symbolise Christ, the Light, who in John 8:12 came into the world, dispels our darkness and helps us to have the light of life. Over the years, the symbolism of the candles has been enriched with names given to each candle. The candle of the First Sunday of Advent (violet) is the prophet’s candle, that of the second (violet) is the Bethlehem candle, the third (rose) is the shepherd’s candle, the fourth (violet) is the angel’s candle and the white candle that is lit on the eve of Christmas and on Christmas day is the Christ’s candle. What Should We Do with the Wreath? Parishioners have often asked me what are they to do with the Advent wreath? My answer has always been, place it on your dinner table or in some other significant place. On the First Sunday of Advent light one of the violet candles. Meditatively read the text of Isaiah 9:2, 6-7. Reflect on the darkness that is hovering around you, the world, or the darkness in which you find yourself. See in the lighted candle the hope that Isaiah talks about.
The hope that summons us to live and walk in the light of Christ coming into our world and the new life He brings. On the Second Sunday of Advent light two violet candles. Meditate on Isaiah 40:3-5. Ask yourself, how are you preparing for the Lord’s coming. What are the mountains that need lowering with the humility of Christ, and what are the valleys that need filling in with the love of Christ? On the Third Sunday of Advent light the rose candle together with the two violet candles already lit. Meditate on Matthew 2:10-11. Reflect on the joy that comes from encountering the Lord as a vulnerable child. The joy the Magi felt when they gave the child Jesus gifts and knelt in worship. On the Fourth Sunday of Advent light the third violet together with the rose candle and the other two violet candles already lit. Meditatively read John 3: 16-19. Reflect on God’s love. Do you believe God loves you? Do you believe He loves the world so much that He gave up His Only Begotten Son? Do you feel condemned? Can you hear that Jesus came into the world and He is coming again not to condemn but that you and the world might be saved through Him? On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day light the white candle and celebrate the birth of Christ – the birth of light in our dark world.
Theological Reflection on Advent The Season of Advent raises three theological questions. The first is Why Advent? Perhaps the answer is in the meaning of Advent, the symbols, and the liturgical celebrations of the season. But there is something more. It is a broader theological issue that borders around creation, fall, formation of a people, promise, redemption and the Second Coming of Christ. Advent therefore retells our story. It tells it with the insight of Christian anthropology and ecology that not only addresses the physical reality of humanity and the environment, but also calls the whole creation to look to look to God. For creation came from God and creation is ordered toward God. The fall is humanity’s failure to continue to be part of the unfolding of God’s self-giving love which is the making of our story. When we fell, we were unable to trust the truth that God is love. We stopped seeing creation as a good to be nurtured, cultivated, and treasured.
We began to see it as something to be used largely for our selfish gains and misused as well. We became slaves to created things because we had lost the wisdom that once was our freedom, enabling us to be stewards of creation. Advent, that season in which we await Christ the King to enter this poor province of ours called earth, a province disfigured by sin and shame, becomes the time of grace for ‘our weakness, our failure to dialogue with God’s faithfulness.’ In the light of this, Advent becomes a season that reorients us, reminds us that we cannot live without God who is love. For without love we become incomprehensible to ourselves, our lives become senseless, unless we encounter love, dialogue with love, and participate intimately in God. Advent prepares us for redemption. The second theological question is How? The Liturgy of Advent and its Let us talk things, Catholic – Advent symbols speak of patience. Patience as an anonymous author once said is the ability to have a good attitude, the attitude of the beatitudes while we are waiting. Our preparation for Advent evokes the beatitudes. The poor are indeed blessed as God comes in Advent to visit them.
Those who mourn are comforted and they hear again the good news that their Lord and King is coming. In fact, He is near, and He is coming to change their darkness of pain and sorrow into the light of joy. The how question is also about bringing ourselves to God in worship. For ‘Christian worship is concerned with God; the Christian religion’s essential theme is God, and it is in worship that God is most emphatically encountered in actuality as the living God.’ It is in worship that we experience redemption. This in a way gives Advent its character. It pulls us into the very reality of being human in the midst of creation. As creation is itself redeemed as humanity is being redeemed. And by so doing, joy is born anew. We experience a foretaste of the heavenly Liturgy. The third theological question is What is joy? Joy is the spirit of Advent. Joy is the fruit of our healthy relationship with God and His creation. Joy is what is born in our hearts when we long for the Second Coming of Christ as we remember His First Coming and look forward to celebrating His birth at Christmas.
Joy is what happens to us when the reality of God enters our world and reorders our own realities toward Himself. Joy is that state in which we experience anew the echoes of the first ‘Joy to the World’, angels singing Glory to God in the highest…. The joy we are talking about is not a mere feeling or sentiment. It is the joy of the Gospel. It is the joy that fills our heart when we hear the good story, the story that our liberation from sin and shame is near at hand. It is the joy that transforms us and makes us to rejoice, take delight in what God has done, is doing and will do. ‘With Christ’, as Pope Francis said in Evangelii Gaudium, this ‘joy is constantly born anew’. So let us rise with contrite and humble hearts and be with Christ so that joy will not only be born anew in us, but His joy may be completely ours.