I walked around the party supply store for more than 30 minutes on a November Sunday looking at candles.
I pulled out long, gold taper candles wrapped in cellophane, looking them over for just a few seconds before returning them to the bin. They weren’t what I was looking for. I marched up and down the Christmas aisles filled with ornaments and garlands and plastic chargers for decorating the table.
But again and again I returned to the wedding display studying a box of twelve votive candles in small glass holders for just $9.99. There was something appealing about this deal on votives that I couldn’t shake, but still I didn’t have a vision yet.
I was shopping for Advent candles.
The easy thing to do would have been to drive to one of the Christian bookstores in the area on Monday afternoon and pick up a pre-packaged set of candles, three purple and one pink. Then I could have sprung for a white pillar at the party store for the Christ candle and I would be ready for Advent. I even have a metal Advent wreath designed to hold just such a combination of candles.
But for the past few years, designing a unique display for the candles has become as much a part of the Advent tradition as actually lighting them. And the odds were good this year that my display would have something to do with votives, 12 for $10.
I first celebrated Advent when I was a junior in college. Our new campus pastor introduced the ancient observance into our thrice-weekly chapel services, inviting professors and their families to light candles and read scripture as a way to prepare our hearts for considering the incarnation.
That first Advent was a very non-traditional entrée of the tradition for our campus. The candles were not purple and pink; they were gold, white, green, and purple, representing prophets, angels, shepherds, and wise men. We didn’t read scripture or pray from the Common book, and we never met on a single Sunday.
But I was a young adult trying to ground myself in a faith tradition. The church where my faith was born claimed “Baptist” in its name. While a student, I attended church with friends wherever I could find a ride. Each Sunday was different: Methodist, Pentecostal, Wesleyan and non-denominational churches. But none of them became home.
In Advent, however, a ritual that had been repeated by Christians for centuries, I found myself.
I was an Advent Christian.
But with no other experiences to help shape my view of what an Advent observance looks like, I was left to research and imagine for myself. Every year, I pull out the Book of Common Prayer and pray the prayers and read the scriptures. But it’s not because I’ve ever been at a church that did that. In fact, I bought my prayer book at Borders after reading A Prayer for Owen Meany back in the 90s.
And I usually invite friends over on Sundays in December to eat soup and sing Christmas carols, though I’ve heard that Advent purists would never dream of singing a Christmas carol until Christmas Eve. Or is it Christmas Day?
But my real connection with Advent is the light of the candles, the flame kept burning until Christmas, the flame we fan in our own hearts until He comes again.
Whatever else Advent may be to me, it’s always about the candles.
Even as I grabbed a couple of boxes of the discounted white votives, I remembered my desire last year to return to the more traditional colors of Advent as a way to set this time apart from Christmas, a season of ubiquitous red and green.
With the boxes in hand, I returned to the aisle where the gentleman on the ladder was stocking merchandize. Twice he had offered his assistance.
“Are you sure there’s not something I can help you find?” he asked.
“No thank you, I’m trying to catch a vision for something,” I told him.
Then I saw the multicolored votives in the area where he had been standing.
“Actually, how much are those?” I asked, pointing to the purple and pink ones especially. I had done a quick glance at the calendar to realize that the 24 white candles would be enough for each weekday of Advent. If I bought colored candles for Sundays, I could do something really different this year.
A candle for every day of Advent.
As the man did a price check and I let the vision grow, I found beautiful pink and purple candles holders, just the right size for a votive.
I grabbed a basket for my purchases and checked out happily.
It took some work, but now I was ready for Advent.
Now, it’s your turn to share about a story about Advent.
I have the privilege of hosting a group-writing project for The High Calling here at Wide Open Spaces. And you, my friends, are invited to participate. Here’s how:
1 —Think of an Advent tradition that you continue to reinvent year after year. It could be something old you do for Advent year after year or something new you are doing for Advent just this year. Or consider an old Advent truth they are reminded of again this year or a new truth you have been learning for the first time.
2 — Write about those Advent traditions or lessons on your blog, using rich description and story.
3 — Return here – any time before Wednesday, December 7 — and link your story in the space below so we can find you. Be sure to link back to this specific post from your blog.
4 — On December 12, I will feature some of your posts here. And my fellow High Calling editor (Laura Boggess) and I may also feature some of your stories over at The High Calling!
By the way, if you are looking for other good resources about the Advent Season, check out Mark D. Roberts’ new eBook Discovering Advent. I downloaded it yesterday and am enjoying it already. You can also read an interview with the author by High Calling editor Marcus Goodyear.