Advent is a time of preparation set aside by the Church to help us prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ at Christmas. Amidst the cold dark of winter, the Church provides the light of Advent candles to guide us in this time of meditation. The lighting of the Advent candles is a most fitting tradition for us in our time of preparation. The use of candles itself is a useful image, and each candle represents a specific virtue to focus our considerations.
Consider the use of candles in the following way: Before receiving the flame, the wax of the candle is cold and hard, and does not bring forth light. Once ignited, the hard wax melts before the light, and the melted wax is burned away, producing light.
A similar transformation occurs within our hearts. When the light of Christ is presented to us, our own hardness of heart is melted away. Once converted, our hearts are then consumed by the Light, as we are brought to participate in Christ’s good work.
Furthermore, the virtues of hope, love, joy, and peace are represented by the four Advent candles. The first chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel leads us to reflect on these virtues in the following way.
Hope: The message of the Angel Gabriel to Mary is one of hope. This hope is in a Messiah promised by God after the Fall, foretold by the prophets, and awaited by the people of God throughout the Old Testament. And so, when the first candle is lit, we can reflect on the words of Gabriel as revealing to Mary the fulfillment of God’s promises in which we place our hope.
Love: Mary’s response to Gabriel’s message is out of Love for God, and her yes brings Love into the world for all people. So, the second candle brings us to consider how we can love God more in our lives, and how through Christ we bring love to others.
Joy: At the Visitation, Elizabeth greets Mary with joy at her coming as John the Baptist leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb. In response, Mary pours forth her Magnificat as a song of praise. On Gaudete Sunday, we are reminded that Jesus is coming soon, and so with the third candle, we rejoice and give praise like Mary and Elizabeth.
Peace: The last event depicted in Luke 1:67-79 is a prophecy from Zechariah. His prophecy begins with “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people, and has raised up a horn of salvation.” So, as we light the last Advent candle before Christmas, we meditate on the purpose of the Incarnation, which is to bring about peace through the merciful Messiah.
Therefore, as the Advent candles are lit, our own minds and hearts are illuminated and transformed by the light of Christ. By reflecting on the mysteries leading up to Christ’s birth and the virtues represented by the candles, we are prepared to receive the Christ Child into our own lives.