Advent Wreaths

I suppose I should preface this post by saying I know a few folks from church stop by here on occasion and this is certainly not meant to offend anyone or be a complaint. Just a personal post.

I have a philosophical objection to Advent Wreaths. I don’t like them. I certainly have no objection to others participation in the whole advent wreath ceremony thingy, but it’s not for me. In fact, in my limited experience, it seems it has been more liberal . . . er. . . “mainline” churches that do the whole advent wreath thing because they are so wrapped up in the material expression of symbolism — it feels good and people get to play a part, so lets do this advent wreath and get people to light a candle every Sunday and pretend we’re Catholic-lite and read some cheesy line on the significance of the candle.

At least, that’s what it means to me. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the only two sacraments in Christendom (some denominations may vary). Yet, some people view this wreath silliness as something you *have* to do. As Baptism, at least as my old baptist preacher would say, is the outward expression of inward belief, Advent has somehow become an outward expression of . . . something?!

I don’t know. I just don’t like it. People get too wrapped up in this “we have to do the advent wreath” thing and they lose sight of the larger picture. I guess this also goes to my philosophical objection to singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus.

Yeah, Happy Birthday Jesus. Guess what we got you? A cross, some nails, and a few hours of sadistic flogging!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about celebrating Christmas. But it’s a different celebration for me than a “rah-rah” Happy Birthday, let’s light the stupid candle celebration.

To me it is more a “for God so loved the world, he sent [sacrificed] his only begotten Son” kind of celebration. And lighting a candle and reading a cheesy statement and breaking it up over multiple weeks just takes away from that, in my opinion. It puts the emphasis on a weekly symbolic event act effected by one person or family each week and the act itself is given some sort of great weight. The great weight, I think, should be in the message that Sunday of what it meant for our Lord to love us so much that he gave up his life for us.

I can tell I’ve failed to fully convey why it is exactly that I don’t care for this little weekly ceremony. But, I think I can safely say I have conveyed that it is not for me. And yes, I’m willing to admit I’m a product of my stern Baptist upbringing.

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Erick Erickson

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  • I knew that you hated the wreath the moment that you spotted it. Without your having said a word, I could actually feel the disdain coming from you.

    Even though I knew that you were going to hate having that wreath in the sanctuary, I have to say that I was thrilled to see it. I love the Advent Wreath tradition. The first year that my childhood church began to celebrate Advent, I thought it was really weird and I didn’t like it, simply because it was different from what we had always done. But that first year, families in the church committed to celebrating Advent, and my family was one of the ones who participated. My parents bought us an Advent wreath (or it may have been a gift from the church — I don’t remember) and we had a book of devotions that carried us through the entire season of Advent. We learned the significance of the individual candles, how each week focused on different things leading up to the lighting of the Christ Candle. Every night, my family sat around the Advent wreath, we read a devotional as a family, and lit the candles of the wreath as a family. I think you’ll see the theme that I’m stressing here — family, family, family. I remember thinking how amazing it was that my parents took the time out to have that devotional time with us. We hadn’t done anything like that since I was a small child and would read Bible stories and say my prayers before bed.

    I have to say that the year we all celebrated Advent was truly the most special Christmas I have ever celebrated, in terms of appreciating the real meaning of Christ’s birth and life. My mind and heart had been made to consider the impact of Christ’s birth every single day for the entire Advent season. This was not a cursory, passing thought of, “Oh yeah. Christ’s birth. Meaning for the season cliches and so forth.” If you are to learn the meaning of Advent, you cannot do it without applying your mind and heart.

    Erick, I know that you have strong feelings about not doing things that are not by the book — both doctrinally and traditionally. I only wish that you had been raised in an environment that had allowed you to celebrate the wonder of this season as I did. Both the Advent Wreath celebration, and the celebration of Christ’s Birthday, were such special parts of my childhood, and are things that I want to pass on to our children.

    Each year, my Aunt Carol baked a birthday cake for Jesus, and all my cousins and I would get to sing Happy Birthday and we had a party for Him. Now as an adult, I can see that this may sound sort of silly. But in a home of faith, where the parents were doing all they could to raise their children to know and love God, what more obvious way to portray the meaning of Christmas than to have the same kind of celebration for Jesus’ birthday as children have for their own birthdays? We couldn’t miss the significance of the day, because it was shown to us in vivid example as we sang and had a piece of cake. And as a woman who has given birth to a child of my own, I have to imagine that Mary, although she knew that her Son would not live a normal life in many ways, she did not go through nine months of carrying that child, then the difficulty of labor and delivery, and not be anything but happy when she held her baby boy in her arms. She was happy. The birth of Christ was not a sad time for her little family. So while there is sadness in contemplating the trials of Christ and his suffering, don’t miss the joy that would have accompanied His birth.

    For others who read this, Erick and I have talked about the birthday cake for Jesus tradition, and while he does not like it, and may not participate with me, he has said that I may continue that tradition with our own children without him preventing me from doing it. He just doesn’t like it personally.

    Well, I just have to hope that once he sees moments like this played out in front of him, that he will be able to get past his hatred of anything different. And for the record, I know no person who could have had a more stern Baptist upbringing than I did. My childhood church is not like it used to be, but when I was growing up, it was very conservative. The same thing goes for my Grandma’s church, which we attended any time we were at her house. I attended two sessions of Vacation Bible School each summer (once at my home church and once at my Grandma’s church) and we were in the church for basically every event that occurred. We were a family that could be said of them “If the doors were open, we were at church.” So I don’t think liking or disliking things like an Advent Wreath have anything to do with being raised Baptist. I think it has to do with having had the opportunity to learn what the celebration of Advent means, down to the meaning of each individual candle and how we are to prepare our hearts for Christmas, and being exposed to something like that at a time in my life when I was open to it.

    Don’t be so set in your ways that you miss a blessing. And don’t be so set in your ways that you may prevent your children from experiencing something that may help them come to know God in a more real and personal way. Think about how much it warms your heart when you see Evelyn stop to hold my hand during the blessing. She does that, not because she understands what we are doing, not because she is also thanking God for her food and family, but because the example has been set before her. She lives in a home where opportunities to see gratitude and thankfulness and obedience to God are shown. Let’s not squelch those opportunities when we have chances to show her, in real, tangible ways, that God loves us and cares for us. Let’s not pass by moments that she could experience God, come to know Him, love Him, and understand Him and His plan for her precious life.