Last Sunday, we launched Holy Hardware with Deon Johnson For Individuals and For Groups. In this class, the Rev. Johnson offers guidance on the holy items and sacred spaces within churches — on what makes them holy to us and on why and how we use these items and spaces. In keeping with the Rev. Johnson’s class, it seems appropriate to discuss holy hardware in churches specific to Advent. What sacred materials do we use during Advent, and what significance do they hold?
Purple is the liturgical color we use for vestments and hangings in the church during Advent. The color purple represents royalty: we await the coming of our king. Purple is also a color associated with penitence; it is the liturgical color of Lent as well. We use the color of penitence because, as John the Baptist exhorts us to do, we repent of our sins in preparation for the coming of the Lord. Just as we clean our house to welcome a guest, we clean our spiritual house to welcome the coming of our great Guest.
Another piece of Holy Hardware commonly used in churches (and in homes) during Advent is the Advent wreath. Typically, this wreath is round and covered with greens, but as long as four candles can be lit around it, it can be made of almost anything.
We light one new candle on the Advent wreath each Sunday of Advent. Three of the candles are purple, in keeping with the liturgical season. One is rose colored, hearkening back to a time when people’s penitential disciplines during Advent were more stringent than those we typically use today. On the third Sunday of Advent, churches read Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I say, Rejoice!” The third Sunday was known, therefore, as gaudete Sunday (Latin for “rejoice”), and the liturgical color, as well as the penitential restrictions, were lightened for the day. The center candle, of course, is white, representing Jesus, and burns with the other four candles once the waiting is over, during the twelve days of Christmas.
Other churches have other traditions specific to their congregations. My church, for example, the Church of the Holy Family in Chapel Hill, traditionally moves the three wise men from the nativity scene to different places around the nave during Advent to represent their (and our) journey to find Jesus. Whatever traditions your church has, we hope that you have a holy and blessed Advent celebrating them with your congregation as we wait together for the coming of our Lord.
To learn more about Holy Hardware with Deon Johnson, please enjoy this preview.