As I was working on some of the Christmas services last week, a thought came up in my mind: Isn’t it weird that we have two Christ candles in the sanctuary over the Advent season? In the vein of “great minds think alike,” one of the first questions Nan asked me during the decorating time was about having two Christ candles in the sanctuary.
The Christ candle represents the presence of Christ. Churches do this very differently. Some churches will have two candles on the communion table; others often have a giant pillar with the candle prominently displayed. Some churches I have been to, especially in the developing world, will have a tea candle in a pretty holder. Regardless of what it looks like, the meaning of the candle is the same, and a reminder of Matthew 18:20 when Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them (NRSV)." We bring in the light as a reminder that Christ is present with us, and when we go out the door, it reminds us that Christ is in the world. Thus, the presence of Christ is everywhere.
During Advent, most Presbyterian churches utilize the Advent candles as a tool to help their congregations remember that the month of December is a time of ordered preparation. Each week, we are called to look inward and ask how we are preparing ourselves for the coming of Christ. While we see that coming as Christmas, really what we are preparing for is the Second Coming, taking time to reflect on how we are living out the call to be people of hope, peace, joy, and love. The fifth Advent candle, which is lit on Christmas Eve, is the Christ Candle.
So now you might be able to see the dilemma: for four weeks, we will have two Christ candles; but there are not two Christs, so what are they symbolizing? Logically, it does not make sense until you think it through. As Christians, we believe that Christ was born into this world to save the world from ourselves.
He reminded us that we need to keep check on our humanity and recognize that we are called not to live for ourselves, but for God. In that way, we are never separated from God’s love and Christ’s grace. But at the same time, we are in a perpetual state of waiting—not just during Advent, but every day of our lives. We are waiting for the Second Coming, the day that Christ will come in his final glory to welcome those whom he has called to heaven.
So, having two candles actually makes a lot of sense. The candle we light every Sunday represents the Christ who came and his Spirit that remains. The candle that is not lit reminds us that while Christ has come, Christ will come again, and we need to always be vigilant about how we are prepared for that day.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen