Advent Wreath – History, Meaning, and Celebration

Information, celebration, and a devotional on the coming of Jesus Christ for families, Bible study groups, and anyone else who wants to add truth and richness to the Christmas season.

By Mark D. Harris

Advent (Latin adventus) refers to the coming of Jesus Christ. On the first Sunday of Advent, we remember God’s love for us, exemplified in the first candle…hope. We also reflect on the symbolism of the wreath itself. On the second Sunday, we think about the peace that He gives us, especially in this season, through His Son. On the third Sunday of Advent, we consider the third candle, joy. On the fourth Sunday, we focus on love. Finally, on Christmas Eve, the Christ candle reminds us of how Jesus Christ is the source of each of these.

The Advent Wreath

Pagan Germans used wreaths lit with candles for centuries prior to the introduction of Christianity. Scandinavians placed four candles on a wheel symbolizing the movement of the seasons and asking the god of light to bring spring and warmth again.[1] Christians understood the candles not as the seasons but as the attributes of Christ, including hope, peace, joy, and love. They added a Christ candle in the center since all these things emanate from Jesus Christ, God the Son.

The Advent Wreath can be made of any type of evergreen branches, all of which signify everlasting life. Laurel reflects victory over persecution, even as the Greeks awarded a laurel wreath to victors of athletic competitions.[2] Pine, holly, and yew remind us of our immortality in Christ. Cedar confers strength and healing. The prickly leaves of holly resemble Jesus’ crown of thorns. The wreath is a circle, which has no end. Pinecones, nuts, and seed pods make us think of life and resurrection.

The Advent Candles

Historically, each candle represented 1,000 years, and the four candles speak of the estimated 4,000 years from Adam to Christ. One candle is lit per Sunday during the Advent season. Three candles are purple (hope, peace, love), encouraging prayer and preparation for Christmas Day. One candle is pink (joy), because the third Sunday is the midpoint of Advent.

Hope (Advent Candle 1, purple) – The secular world defines hope as “to cherish a desire with anticipation: to want something to happen or be true, to desire with expectation of obtainment or fulfillment.[3]

In Biblical Greek, hope is “ἐλπίς elpís, from a primary ἔλπω élpō (to anticipate, usually with pleasure); expectation (abstractly or concretely) or confidence: faith, hope.”[4] We find the Greek and Hebrew words for peace 130 times in 121 verses.

Hope also has little to do with emotions. The strength of hope depends on the character of whoever or whatever we place our hope in. Hope in God is absolutely rock-solid knowledge that He will succeed in all He does.

Peace (Advent Candle 2, purple) – Those who do not follow Christ define peace as “a state of tranquility or quiet: such as freedom from civil disturbance, a state of security or order within a community provided for by law or custom, a breach of the peace, freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions, or harmony in personal relations.”[5]


In Biblical Greek, peace is “εἰρήνη eirḗnē, i-ray’-nay; probably from a primary verb εἴρω eírō (to join); peace (literally or figuratively); by implication, prosperity: one, peace, quietness, rest, + set at one again.[6]” In the Bible, the Hebrew and Greek words for peace appear 429 times in 400 verses.

To a Christian, peace is rooted in the Almighty. It is far deeper than the quiet that people enjoy when good things are happening to them, or when civil unrest is quashed. Job was financially ruined and bereft of his children, and yet understood the utter sovereignty of the Lord. His wife told him to curse God and die, “but he (Job) said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. Job 2:10, ESV.

Joy (Advent Candle 3, pink) – To those who do not know Christ, joy is “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.”[7] To those who do not know Christ, joy depends on circumstances. If you make money, have fun, feel healthy, and pleasant things happen to you, you can have joy. If these things are not true, you cannot have joy.

The Greek word in the Bible is χαρά chará, which means cheerfulness, i.e. calm delight, or gladness.[8] The word is used 59 times in 57 verses in the New Testament (KJV), and 22 times in 21 verses in the Old Testament (Septuagint).  The Hebrew equivalent is שִׂמְחָה simchâh, which means blithesomeness or glee, (religious or festival), exceeding(-ly), gladness, joy(-fulness), mirth, pleasure, rejoice(-ing). It occurs 94 times in 89 verses in the KJV.

God commands His followers to be joyful. Moses told the Israelites at Mount Ebal of the curses that they would face for disobedience, and Mount Gerizim, the blessings that they would receive for obedience. Obedience includes joyfulness, and so obedience without joy is sin, which God will punish (Deuteronomy 28:47). Joy, therefore, is not circumstance dependent. It is a choice which Christians must make.

Love (Advent Candle 4, purple) – The world defines love as “strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties, attraction based on sexual desire, affection and tenderness felt by lovers, affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests, unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another: such as the fatherly concern of God for humankind, brotherly concern for others, a person’s adoration of God”[9]

The Greek is ἀγάπη agápē; from G25; love, i.e., affection or benevolence; specially (plural) a love-feast: (feast of) charity(-ably), dear, love.[10] Love appears 310 times in 280 verses between the Greek and the Hebrew.

The Bible makes it clear that love is a commitment and action. We all enjoy feeling warm emotions often associated with “love,” but love does not depend on feeling one way or another.

Christ (Advent Candle 5, white) – Placed in the middle of the wreath and lit on Christmas Eve, the Christ Candle symbolizes the coming of our Lord. Its whiteness speaks of His purity.

A Sample of the Ceremony of the Lighting of the Advent Wreath[11]

The following is a sample ceremony that families can use to help them celebrate Advent with the Advent wreath. Readers can feel free to make changes to fit their own family and situation.

The Advent wreath is lit at dinner time after the blessing of the food. A traditional prayer service using the Advent wreath proceeds as follows: On the First Sunday of Advent, the father of the family blesses the wreath, praying: O God, by whose word all things are sanctified, pour forth Thy blessing upon this wreath, and grant that we who use it may prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ and may receive from Thee abundant graces. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.” He then continues for each of the days of the first week of Advent, O Lord, stir up Thy might, we beg thee, and come, that by Thy protection we may deserve to be rescued from the threatening dangers of our sins and saved by Thy deliverance. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.” The youngest child then lights one purple candle.

During the second week of Advent, the father prays: O Lord, stir up our hearts that we may prepare for Thy only begotten Son, that through His coming we may be made worthy to serve Thee with pure minds. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.” The oldest child then lights the purple candle from the first week plus one more purple candle.

During the third week of Advent, the father prays: O Lord, we beg Thee, incline Thy ear to our prayers and enlighten the darkness of our minds by the grace of Thy visitation. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.” The mother then lights the two previously lit purple candles plus the rose candle.

During the fourth week of Advent, the father prays: O Lord, stir up Thy power, we pray Thee, and come; and with great might help us, that with the help of Thy grace, Thy merciful forgiveness may hasten what our sins impede. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.” The father then lights all of the candles of the wreath.

Church groups and others can amend the script as needed to match their particular situation.

The Advent Candles and the Goals they Reflect

The more perceptive among us would agree that Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love are appropriate goals for life. But these goals are abstract and impossible to measure. Further, like the wind, these goals fly away when you try to grasp them. We can try to will ourselves into hope, peace, joy, and love, but we lack the power to succeed, especially in the long run. Such efforts end in a short, sullen determination to produce feelings beyond our grasp.

God has provided a universe of space, time, objects, and other creatures in which our lives play out. In this universe, we discover Jesus Christ, God Himself, who is the only source of the hope, peace, joy, and love.

  1. Remembering how God saved us yesterday through poverty, sickness, and pain gives us hope as we face the same trials tomorrow. Hope comes when we trust Him for our past, present, and future. In the midst of tragedy and despair, Job continued to hope in the Lord (Job 13:15).
  2. Meditating on prayers that God has answered – prayers to graduate from school, to get a good job, to find a godly spouse, to have healthy children, and a hundred more requests – provides peace in the expectation that He will answer our prayers again. Peace arrives when we imbibe His ultimate power and unbelievable goodness.
  3. Reflecting on the happy times of past and present, and simply noticing the forgotten miracles all around, from flowers to sunrises, cannot help but bring joy, to the person of honest heart. Joy springs forth from gratitude for His boundless beauty and pleasure.
  4. Gratefully reminiscing God’s love for us, as manifested through our family, friends, accomplishments, experiences, and belongings, as well as the love He has shown others through us, generates love for today and tomorrow. Love radiates from Him through us to all those around, and from Him through those around to us. God’s love shines out through the majesty of His sunrise, cleanses our souls like a rushing wind, and falls drop by drop through the love of His creatures.

Through our Creator, Jesus Christ, the Father freely offers us everything.

The Human Condition

Infinitely prideful and implacably hateful towards those we perceive are over us, humans reject God and try to deny Him glory for the great things He has done. We attribute the majesty of creation to a series of random mutations conferring a survival advantage on organisms which consequently are more successful at reproducing. We write off hope, peace, joy, and love as mere fluctuations in levels of chemicals (such as dopamine) in our bodies. We pretend that humanity writ large is the final arbiter of morality. We deny that we are created, and therefore imagine that we own our own bodies and live for ourselves. We insist that we can deny how we were made and live in any way we choose. Like a sheep who imagines he can kill the approaching lion, we do such things to our own destruction.

God remains supreme. His Will will be done, no matter what we think or want. And yet, what He wants for each of us is a thousand times better than what we want for ourselves. Only in God do we discover the abundant life, the life of hope, peace, joy, and love. We simply need to see it, and accept it (Psalm 37:4).


The celebration of the Advent wreath is a poignant part of the commemoration of the most marvelous event in human history, the earthly coming, life, death, and resurrection of God Incarnate. The wreath, including the four Christmas candles demonstrate what the coming of Jesus Christ stands for; what Christmas is all about. Jesus Christ is the secret to hope, peace, joy, and love. To have the Christ candle is to have every other candle. Rejoicing in the Christmas season helps build a firm foundation of faith for those who love the Lord and their progeny for a thousand generations.

[1] The History of the Advent Wreath,

[2] The History of the Advent Wreath,

[3] Merriam Webster,

[4] Blue Letter Bible,

[5] Merriam Webster,

[6] Blue Letter Bible,

[7] Merriam Webster,

[8] Blue Letter Bible,

[9] Merriam Webster,

[10] Blue Letter Bible,

[11] The History of the Advent Wreath, :

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