We begin the season of Advent at the time of year when the dark gathers earliest, when the days are shortest, when the short-lived light seems to shine on a slant. It is no wonder that we use candlelight, so inviting, to mark the time. One candle this week, and two candles next week, and then three and then four, our light against the darkness as we wait for the light of the world to draw near.
I came back to church after a long hiatus on the first Sunday of Advent twenty-five years ago. Having been raised in a tradition that did not observe the season, I was entranced with the customs of Advent. Worried that I didn’t have a proper Advent wreath, I decided a homemade one was going to have to do, and I found four glass candleholders, only an inch or so high, and set them on a round glass canapé tray and scoured the shelves at five stores trying to find three blue and one pink candle (only to be confounded by the discovery that some people use purple while others just use white). It looked pretty bare. But fortunately, I had a large patch of ivy taking over the back of our property and was able to bring in a big wad of it to make a green wreath. A green wreath full of dirt and bugs, but a quick spray in the sink fixed that up. Finally, I found a big white scented candle in a jar (so what if it was a summer scent), stuck it in the middle of the canapé dish where the dip usually goes, and viola. My very first Advent wreath.
In the years since, I’ve mostly stuck to the homemade wreath. One year I bought some silk ivy which lasted until I caught it on fire. Another year I tried using some of my roses that were inexplicably still blooming in December. This was lovely for one week. For the next three weeks, it was back to the ivy, which is very hard to kill.
One year I bought a proper Advent ring, but I’ve never liked using it nearly as much as my homemade contraptions.
The point of it all, of course, is not to have “the right kind” of Advent wreath but to use it to mark sacred time with increasing brightness. It doesn’t matter what color the candles. It doesn’t matter if you say the right prayer when you light them. It doesn’t matter if you have a “proper” Advent wreath or one you rigged up out of Play-Doh and pretend flowers. The point of it all is to see the lovely light growing over the season, bringing us ever closer to meeting our Lord again in all his glory.
A blessed Advent to you again this year.