The use of candles in rituals of hope predates the use of the Advent wreath in the Christian tradition. Most of these rituals strengthened the hope that winter would soon be over and that the longer light and warmth of spring would arrive.
It was no leap to adapt these traditions to the season of Advent, which is also about waiting, hoping, and longing for light — the light of Christ.
According to tradition, the first Advent wreath was created by German pastor Johann Hinrich Wichern in response to the endless questions of children — who resided in the urban mission where he worked — wanting to know if it was Christmas yet. In 1839, Wichern created a wreath with 24 red candles representing the days leading up to Christmas and four white ones representing the weeks. The practice gained in popularity in Europe around 1920 and North America and elsewhere a decade later.
Today, most Christians associate the candles of the Advent wreath with four words leading up to Jesus’ birth — hope, peace, joy, and love — followed by the lighting of the Christ candle.
The following litanies can be used during Sunday worship, together with family at home, or in personal meditation or reflection to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Christ child.
First Sunday of Advent: Ignite within Us Hope
Read: Jeremiah 33:14-16
Light the first candle, the candle of hope.
Speak: “The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (Jer. 33:14, NRSV).
Reflect: God’s people have always been people of hope. Be silent for one minute, reflecting on what you hope for as a child of God.
Pray: God of hope, grant us a vision of the future that is in harmony with your will for us. Amen.
Second Sunday of Advent: Ignite within Us Peace
Read: Luke 3:1-6
Light the candle of hope and the second candle, the candle of peace.
Speak: “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:5-6).
Reflect: We live in a time of division and strife. For one minute, be silent and listen for God’s call to you as a peacemaker. What is God asking you to do?
Pray: God of peace, move us to be messengers of peace in all places and with all people we encounter. Amen.
Third Sunday of Advent: Ignite within Us Joy
Read: Isaiah 12:2-6
Light the candles of hope and peace, and the third candle, the candle of joy.
Speak: “With joy [I] will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isa. 12:3).
Reflect: In silence, ponder the gifts of God that bring you joy — the kind of joy that feels like fresh water bubbling up from a spring.
Pray: God of joy, when our hearts soar, remind us that you are the source of all blessings. Let our greatest joy be your presence that is with us always. Amen.
Fourth Sunday of Advent: Ignite within Us Love
Read: Luke 1:39-55
Light the candles of hope, peace, and joy, and the fourth candle, the candle of love.
Speak: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (Luke 1:46-49).
Reflect: From whom do you receive love? To whom do you give love? How do you experience God’s love in your life? When have you felt most loved?
Pray: God of love, give us confidence in your love for us so that we will freely share your love with others. Amen.
Christmas Eve/Christmas Day: Receive the Light of Christ
Read: Psalm 96:1-13
Light the candles of hope, peace, joy, and love and the Christ candle in the center.
Speak: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined. . . . For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:2, 6).
Reflect: When have you been “in darkness”? How might Jesus bring “great light” into those areas? What would “great light” look like?
Pray: God of salvation, as your great light burst into the world through the birth of your son, Jesus, surround us with the light of your love and salvation. Amen.