By Jemima Holmes
Christmas, a time of joy, togetherness and thanksgiving, is rivalled in celebration by few others. It is the time of year that children look forward to with utmost eagerness, plotting their wish lists. In Guyanese homes, mothers brainstorm the right colour for “blinds” and fathers pull out all the tools needed to repair and clean.
A picture of perfect anticipation; yet, it is not the same in most homes.
The chaos and expectation, for Anglicans, is absent, as they look forward to something they regard as more important; the season of Advent.
“The Anglican church calms you down, slows you down,” St Sidwell’s parish Priest, Reverend Monsell Alves said.
“The focus must be the preparation to welcome Jesus Christ. Ever so often in our society, we celebrate Christmas long before, during the season of Advent, but Advent tells us that we must wait, we must watch and we must be patient but because of commercialism, it doesn’t happen.”
The observance of this season, which is a faith-based, has much to do with a particular symbol, the Advent Wreath. It often bears five candles; four on the outer part of the wreath, of which three are purple and one rose pink. In the centre stands a single white candle. The Wreath in itself is evergreen and decorated lightly with purple bows and flowers.
Each of the candles on the wreath bears a special significance and provides the Anglican Church with a new, weekly focus as the time winds down to Christmas Day. According to Father Alves, even the colour of the wreath is symbolic.
“So, it speaks to God’s eternity,” he said about the colour.
The Parish Priest went on to share more about Advent, stating, “During the season of Advent, there are four Sundays and so for every Sunday during the season, we light a different candle.”
“These candles can be lit during mass, when we have the great thanksgiving, the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. These candles during the season of Advent can be lit if you have evening prayer or morning prayer.”
The first candle that will be lit today, is one of the purple ones. Its significance is one that is closely attached to the season of Christmas.
Reverend Monsell Alves speaking with journalist Jemima Homes. Also in photo is cameraman Paul Vanvield
Hope is the subject of many seasonal movies and carols, a time when the expectation of a special child gave the world some hope to cling to.
“In our society that we’re living in as Guyanese, we need to – also during this pandemic – give people hope,” Father Alves said candidly.
However, while the Advent reason for lighting a Candle of Hope is vaguely similar, St Sidwell’s has attached their own twist, in advocating against HIV/AIDS.
“So the first Sunday of Advent…the first candle we light, will be the Candle of Hope and when we light the candle hope, and this year what we are doing at St Sidwell’s, in addition to lighting this candle which symbolises hope, we will also light the HIV/AIDS candle, because the 1st of December is World AIDS Day,” Reverend Alves informed this publication.
He further stated, “We want to give hope to those persons who are living with HIV/AIDS, to those persons who have to care for those living with HIV/AIDS and everything that has to do with HIV/AIDS.”
The following week, the Anglican church’s focus will shift to peace, as the second Advent candle is lit. Like the first, this candle will also be purple.
As Father Alves explained the intention behind the peace candle, he noted that it is within their belief to accept that peace does not come without tribulations.
He explained, “The second candle we light, is a candle that symbolises peace. And so, for us as Christians, we do not believe that peace means the absence of conflict. We do not believe in that. As Christians we believe that we are going to experience situations in our lives, we going to experience hardships, difficulties, trials, but Jesus Christ is our Prince of Peace.”
Additionally, Jesus Christ’s title as the “Prince of Peace” is taken into consideration, as the church actively exercises ways of sharing that peace.“Since he’s the Prince of Peace, we will light the Candle of Peace. We offer peace to the world and so one of the greetings we say in the Anglican church, ‘The peace of the Lord be with you’ and the members of the congregation respond ‘And also with you’,” Father Alves noted.
JoyThe rose-pink candle on the Advent Wreath is quite a special one; not only is its colour unlike most of the others, but its traditional lighting is also different from the other Advent candles.
“The third candle is the Candle of Joy and this candle is usually lit by a child, because you may know of the carol, ‘Joy to the world, the Lord is come’.”
Seen as a time of giving and charity, the lighting of the joy candle also signifies the middle of the Advent season.
Father Alves further shared, “This candle also symbolises what we call mid-Advent. So, we are in the middle of Advent, we light the Candle of Joy and so our spirit is lifted because Advent is a semi-penitential season, it is a time whereby we should give more to charity, we should also spend more time in prayer and we must also spend more time in fasting.”
“For the 24 days of Advent, we are encouraging persons to read the book of Luke, for every day read a chapter of the book of Luke and so we spread the message of joy during this season of Advent,” the St Sidwell’s Parish Priest urged.
With all the romantic stories that are pedalled by large networks during the Christmas season, it comes as no surprise that love plays an integral role in the Anglicans’ lead up to Christmas Day.
With that said, the fourth candle on the Advent Wreath is symbolic of love. This candle will also bear the purple colour, like those that were lit during the first and second weeks of Advent.
Father Alves shared cheerily, “So, you come now and you start to smile because you start getting closer to Christmas, because Christmas speaks to the Bethlehem child bringing joy to the world, bringing love to the world, for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”“And so, that’s the message of love.”
The Christ Candle
Essentially the most important candle to be lit during the season; the Christ Candle is lit on Christmas Day itself. This is also the point at which the colours of the bows and flowers on the Advent Wreath change. Sometimes the traditional Christmas colours, like red and green, are opted for, but what is sure, is that the Advent Wreath will now appear more festive.
“Jesus Christ is the light of the world, white signifies purity and so we light the Christ Candle,” Father Alves related.
The whole idea of the Advent season, is to prepare one’s heart and mind for the birth of Christ, it is for this reason that the Christ Candle is so important.
“Advent means the coming of Jesus Christ, our incarnate Lord, you will also hear the word Maranatha, which also speaks to the coming of Jesus Christ,” Alves said, adding “as we think of the second coming of Jesus Christ, we think of our own incarnation, Jesus Christ coming into the world and us, living in the world but not part of the world. So, we have to try as much as possible – it is hard for us to do – during the season of Advent, we don’t sing Christmas songs or Christmas music.”
He added, “One of the popular songs you will hear in the churches is ‘Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel’ and Emmanuel means ‘God is with us’. So we are inviting Jesus Christ to come into our homes, to come into our lives”.
However, with the Christ Candle being lit on Christmas Day, there is often much speculation about the ‘right date’ of Jesus Christ’s birth. On this note, Father Alves explained to this publication that the focus on Christ coming into the world is much, much, more important than the date.
“I want to make this point that for us as Anglicans, we are not concentrating pm whether the 25th is the right date or the wrong date, for us as Anglicans we believe in the gospel of John. We believe that Jesus Christ came into the world, and that is what we’re celebrating,” the Priest revealed.
While the observance at the church level affords Christians the opportunity to be fully involved in the Season of Advent, there is much that the individual can do to align their beliefs with the purpose of the observance.
For starters, believers can prepare their own wreath in their home. However, this time calls for serious self-introspection.
Reverend Alves went on to posit, “During this time of Advent, it is so important for us to look within ourselves. We tend to clean physically, outside our houses and we buy all the fancy things but we don’t clean inside.”
“We want to make sure our hearts and our minds, our relationships with others are reconciled, forgiven.”
The need for such may cause some confusion with the Season of Lent, which is observed earlier in the year, before the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. These seasons are not quite the same, since they differ in length (Lent – 40 days), (Advent – 24 days) and purpose.
The St Sidwell’s Parish Priest explained, “The Season of Advent prepares us for the incarnation of Jesus, whereby we remember the birth of Jesus. The season of Lent, it brings us to remember the resurrection of Jesus. So you have this full moment and then suddenly, spring comes”.
With all that has been taken into account, the Advent Wreath is a bold reminder of the most important parts of the Christmas season. The need for hope, Peace, Love, Joy and the birth of Jesus Christ.