The four candles on the Advent wreath can be a measure of the season, a way to mark its stages reverently, so that nothing gets lost in the rush. The wreath itself speaks without a word: evergreen as God’s unchanging care, circular as love, the ring without end.
Time moves forward in measured ways, as we light each subsequent candle. Love grounds and endures: fragrant green boughs anchor us and promise life even as the landscape outdoors may look snowy or barren.
A theme for the first Sunday might be our crying need. One candle may seem alone, frail in the darkness of December, during the shortest days of the year. But it speaks powerfully of our acute need for God. The solitary flame which could so easily be extinguished by a gust of wind or a careless hand reminds us of our own vulnerability. As the Leonard Cohen song says, “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” In many areas we know nothing or blunder badly, though we may bluff or pretend arrogantly. This Sunday reminds us: it’s time to turn to God.
To prepare a place in our hearts for a small Christ child, we must dispense with any arrogance, pride or falsity—sharp prods to tender skin. In the “Magnificat” Mary says God comes into her lowliness, not her great virtue. The Creator of galaxies and oceans nestles into the arms of a young girl, rests in a little straw. The adult Jesus came to those who needed a physician, not those who were smugly self-righteous. No matter how cruelly we’ve sinned, God enters our worst failures and calls us friends.
Excerpt from an article originally published In Liguori Magazine, Dec. 2015.