As we lit our little Advent wreath at home each night this week during our family prayer time, we all wondered if that first candle is big enough to last until Christmas. A little debate ensued, with everyone pitching in suggestions…one person said we should only light it on Sundays, then it would definitely last. Another suggested we turn on a different purple candle each night, so we give that one little candle a break. I didn’t like either of those solutions. For those not familiar with Advent wreaths, they have four candles, each representing one of the four weeks of Advent. The four candles traditionally represent hope, faith, joy, and peace. Each Sunday of Advent, one more candle is lit. The light gets brighter and brighter as we approach the birth of Jesus, who is the Light of the world. So, the way I see it, the first candle of Advent, the one that symbolizes hope, needs to be lit every night, and it needs to last all the way until Christmas. I “suggested” (mom’s suggestions carry a lot of weight around here) we should try lighting it only for the last part of the prayer, when we are sharing our intentions and prayer requests. Maybe we can make it last by lighting it up for a shorter time each night. I am not sure how that will work out; we’ll have to wait to find out.
I find it interesting that the candle that is in danger of extinction is the Light of Hope. As I was pondering about this, the lyrics from one of my favorite Advent hymns, Night of Silence, by Daniel Kantor came to mind:
“Cold are the people, Winter of life, We tremble in shadows this cold endless night, Frozen in the snow lie roses sleeping, Flowers that will echo the sunrise, Fire of hope is our only warmth, Weary, its flame will be dying soon.”
This song has always tugged at the strings of my heart. There is a great truth here. When I look at the world, with all the chaos, confusion, all the sin and darkness, I see hearts weary, running out of hope. Hope… Isn’t that what everyone needs? Isn’t that what we have to ensure we don’t run out of?
The first night we lit the Advent candle, it burned faster than the second night. The difference was that the second night we turned the ceiling fan off. We noticed that when the flame was still and calm, it burned slower and lasted longer. Hearts weary with the storms of life needs to be tended to gently. We must provide shelter from the wind, and then share a little hope. A simple word of encouragement, a smile, a kind gesture… these are concrete things we can do for each other always, but especially during Advent, a time of year when many do struggle with loneliness, when many begin to lose hope. “Whom shall I send?” (Isaiah 6:8). “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased. …a dimly burning wick he will not quench” (42:1,3).
But what can we do this if our own flame is weary? We must first kindle the fire of love in our own hearts. “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of us Your faithful and kindle in us the fire of Your love. Send forth Your Spirit and we shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.” We need grace. We need the Sacraments. We need the Eucharist. We need prayer. We need to avail ourselves of every single opportunity to flame that fire. Much is at stake… the world needs our hope.
With each new candle of Advent, we pray for an increase in hope, faith, joy, and peace. These gifts we are given, as grace, are not just for us. They are meant to build us up, to strengthen us, so we can encourage one another, so we can build each other up. “For all of you are children of the light and children of the day. We are not of the night or of darkness. Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober… But since we are of the day, let us be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet that is hope for salvation… Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, as indeed you do” (1 Thessalonians 5:5-6,8,11).
The Candle of Hope in the Advent wreath needs to last only until Christmas. After that day we don’t need it anymore, for we will have the fulfillment of what we are hoping for, the birth of Our Savior, Emmanuel…God with us. The light of Hope in each of our hearts needs to last until He returns. “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” (Luke 12:49).
So I am still wondering, will the candle on our wreath last until Christmas? … one can only hope.