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“Symbols of the Season: Advent Wreath”
John 1:9


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
First Sunday in Advent—November 29, 2009

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

During Advent this year, our sermon series is focusing on six “Symbols of the Season.”  Each Sunday and for our special Advent services beginning this week on Wednesday evenings at 7:00pm, we will look at a different symbol of the Advent-Christmas season: the Advent wreath, angels, St. Nicholas, the shepherds, the Christmas tree, and Christmas gifts.  This morning, for the first Sunday in Advent, we begin with our first symbol of the season: the Advent wreath.

The word “Advent” means “coming.”  During the Advent season we anticipate celebrating at Christmas the first “coming” of Christ; we experience his coming today in our hearts and lives; and we also prepare ourselves for his Second Coming at the Last Day, when he will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.  The Advent wreath is a symbol of this threefold coming of Christ: his first coming as the Babe of Bethlehem; his coming today in our hearts and lives; and his Second Coming at the Last Day.

The Advent wreath is a symbol of the season that is actually older than Christmas itself.  Wreaths like this with candles were customary already in the years B.C., before Christ.  The people used them to count down the days, not to Christmas, but to Winter Solstice on December 21st.

It probably all began for a very practical reason: simply because as the daylight got shorter, more candles were actually needed to light the night.  The adding of these candles became a family ritual, counting down the days to Winter Solstice, the end of the darkest season of the year.

When these people became Christians, they kept their old custom, but gave it Christian significance.  Instead of counting down the days to Winter Solstice on December 21st, the Advent wreath now marks the approach of Christmas on December 25th.  But, the symbolism is surprisingly similar in a spiritual way.  The ancient people dreaded darkness.  Winter Solstice was celebrated as the return of light to the earth.

In the same way, Scripture says the world and all of us were plunged into the spiritual darkness of sin.  The UN-lit candles in the wreath symbolize spiritual darkness of the world and our hearts.  The gradual lighting of these candles symbolizes the long years God’s people looked forward in faith to the coming of the Savior, the long-awaited Messiah, Immanuel, God-with-us.  As St. John says in today’s Gospel Reading:  “The true Light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.”

God’s people and prophets of old looked forward to the coming of this true Light into our world, as Isaiah prophesied: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light . . . for unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given.”  “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.”

The Desire of the Ages, the long awaited Savior, who lived a perfect life and died a sacrificial death, for the sins of the world—he forgives all your sins; he rose from the dead; he promises to take you to the glories of heaven, where light shall have no end.  Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life.”

So, the Advent wreath symbolizes the ending of spiritual darkness, the coming of the Light of the world, and the coming of the true Light into your heart.  As St. Paul says, “God has made his light shine in our hearts . . . For once you were in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.”

The Advent wreath also symbolizes sharing the light of Jesus Christ, glowing ever brighter and brighter in your life.  St. Paul says, “Therefore live as children of the light.”   Jesus put it this way, “You are the light of the world . . . Let your Light so shine before men that they may see your good works and praise your Father in heaven.”

Finally, the Advent wreath symbolizes the Second Coming of Christ, and the eternal light of heaven.   Jesus says, “As the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”  St. Paul says in Romans:  “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.”

As we light the candles of the Advent wreath in the coming weeks, see in it a symbol of the season:

A symbol of the first coming of Christ—“The true Light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.”

A symbol of faith in Christ, glowing brightly in your heart and life—“For once you were in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. . .  Therefore live as children of the light.”

A symbol of the Second Coming of Christ and the eternal, glorious light of heaven—“The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.”

“Come,” Isaiah says, “let us walk in the light of the Lord.”

Amen.

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