Advent Themes and Symbols

Advent encompasses God’s story from the garden of Eden in Genesis to the establishment of the New Jerusalem in Revelation. Bobby Gross, author of Living the Christian Year, says this:

“The biblical scope of Advent stretches from the garden in Genesis to the New Jerusalem in Revelation… In one sense, the whole of the Old Testament is text for Advent: the creation of the world and the fall of humankind, the choosing of one family to bless all families and one nation to bless all nations, the exodus of that nation from captivity, the giving of the law and settling of the land, the choosing of kings and building of a temple, the sins of the people and cries of the prophets, the exile in Babylon, and the return to live under Persians, then Greeks, then Romans, and the long, long wait for the one anointed to come and deliver. This is the history—the story—that leads up to Jesus.[1]

Symbols of Advent

Many GCI congregations celebrate Advent by having an Advent wreath on a table in the front of the sanctuary. The wreath encircles three purple candles and one rose (or pink) candle. There is a white candle in the middle of the wreath. All is symbolic.

  • The color purple (some use royal blue) symbolizes royalty—fitting as we begin Advent focusing on Jesus returning as King of kings and Lord of lords.
  • The four candles represent the four centuries of waiting between the prophet Malachi and the birth of Christ. One candle is lit each week along with a Scripture reading and a short devotional.
      • The first purple (or blue) candle traditionally represents Expectation of Hope. (The themes vary among different churches.)
      • The second and third purple candles traditionally represent Peace and Love but some also use them to represent different sequences, such as Faith, Hope and Love or Annunciation, Proclamation and Fulfillment.
      • The rose candle (typically lit on the third Sunday) symbolizes joy and might focus on the joy of worshipping the new-found King, or the joy of Emmanuel, or the joy of the shepherds, or the angels singing in joy.
      • The center candle is white and is called the Christ candle. It reminds us throughout Advent that Christ is the light of the world, the light shining in the midst of darkness. Being in the center reminds us that the incarnation is the center of history and that Jesus is the center of the center.
  • The wreath is designed to remind us of God himself—his mercy and love has no beginning or end.
    • The green of the wreath points to the hope we have in God – the hope of renewal, or eternal life.

As meaningful as the symbols of Advent may be, they pale in significance to Advent telling us the story of God’s plan to redeem the world through his Son.

Typically, the lighting of the Advent is done at the beginning of the service and is followed by a Christmas hymn.

Getting members involved

Advent provides an opportunity to get many members involved.

  • One person reads the theme
  • One person reads the Scripture
  • One person lights the candle
  • You can also have a prayer before or after the candle lighting

Here are the themes and Scriptures for 2019.

December 1: This week’s theme is The Lord is coming. This first week of Advent looks to the future return of Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords. The prophet Isaiah talks about God’s kingdom being established and there will be no more war. Psalm 122 talks about the peace that comes when we go to the house of the Lord. Matthew reminds us that Jesus said no one knows the day or the hour, but the Lord is coming. The sermon focuses on Romans 13, where we are reminded that salvation is near, and we want to put our hope in Jesus. After the scripture reading, we will light the candle of Hope.

Scripture reading: Isaiah 2:1-5.

December 8: This week’s theme is the arrival of the kingdom. The kingdom, which arrived with Christ, is discussed or hinted at in these passages. Isaiah 11:1-10 describes the kind of supernatural peace and joy of the kingdom. Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 shares a vision of a kingdom well-ruled which presages the wholeness of the kingdom. In Romans 15:4-13, Paul rings out the call of the gospel to the Gentiles—the unity of the kingdom in that now all people are God’s chosen people. Matthew 3:1-12, on which the sermon is based, tells of John the Baptist heralding the arrival of the rightful king—God himself. Prepare the way of the Lord! After the scripture reading, we will light the candle of Peace. (relight the candle of Hope and then the candle of Peace)

Scripture reading: Isaiah 11:1-19.

December 15: This week’s theme is Jesus brought the kingdom of God. The prophet Isaiah said the kingdom is coming and you will see people healed, the blind will see, the mute will sing praises. The Psalmist looked forward to the time when God gives food to the hungry sets the prisoners free and gives sight to the blind. Matthew recounts Jesus telling John’s disciples to describe what they see, “the blind receive sight, the lame walk… the deaf hear, the dead are raised…” Mary sings of this kingdom in her song. The sermon is from Mary’s song in Luke 1 and reminds us that a significant part of the kingdom message is that God has chosen us to participate in this kingdom, today and in the future. After the Scripture reading, we will light the candle of Joy. (relight the candles of Hope and Peace, and then the candle of Joy)

Scripture reading: Luke 1:46-55.

December 22: This week’s theme is the intervention of God. As God’s people, we believed that he not only makes sense of history, he also intervened in it. Isaiah 7:10-16 discusses the intervention of God in the strange, multi-meaning words about a virgin that will one day bear a child. Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 is a lament asking for God’s intervention on Israel’s behalf. In Romans 1:1-7, Paul introduces the gospel as God’s great narrative history throughout history that culminated in God himself entering history. Matthew 1:18-25 tells the story of God’s intervention in the lives of two young people to change history forever. The sermon is on this Matthew passage and tells how God used an uneducated tradesman to be the stepfather to his Son at the grand intervention of the incarnation. After the scripture reading, we will light the candle of Love. (relight the candles of Hope and Peace and Joy, and then the candle of Love)

Scripture reading: Isaiah 7:11

Lighting of the Christ candle

Scripture reading: John 1:9-14

Happy Advent,

Equipper Team

[1] Gross, Bobby, Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2009), pp. 42-43.

One thought on “Advent Themes and Symbols”

  1. We started using the four candles at our Home Church Christmas celebration last year. It was a beautiful and meaningful experience to explain the symbolism as part of the main message on that very special occasion. We followed up with the Lord’s Supper and the singing of Christmas carols. And then, we had a succulent fellowship meal, with the participation of the lonely and of those who we might consider to be less fortunate than ourselves. We laughed heartily and even cried some joyful and thankful tears.

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