Updated: Dec 10, 2018
We’ve been encouraging the children of the parish to make cardboard or paper advent candles to bring up in the procession this coming Sunday. We usually ask one of the children each week to light the advent candle for that Sunday, and, so far, they’ve managed not to set themselves on fire or burn the church down.
The advent wreath is often the centre of our thoughts for the children’s mass. It’s concrete, it’s something they’ll talk about at school, and it anticipates. As each candle is lit we mark the step of getting nearer to Christmas and children get quite excited about that. Sorry, adults do too – we use the children as an excuse to get excited. I’ll come back to that later in our series.
Back to the candle.
We would never have done that, by the way, when I was at school: have a sentence without a verb or begin a sentence with the word ‘but’ or put a comma after it. But, a candle flame is so evocative: any living flame is.
I remember being in Ireland visiting relatives and sitting in front of an open fire with my grandmother whom I had just met at the age of 92 – no, she was 92!
For some reason we ended up on our own in the kitchen (where all the action happened) staring at the fire. I must have been about 16 or 17 at the time and was an awkward teenager. Being in the presence of this grand matriarch of the Shields clan, I have to say I was somewhat overawed.
She said nothing for at least half an hour. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do or say, so I said nothing but sat rather awkwardly waiting for my mum and dad to come back (I was convinced they had done it deliberately)! And then she turned and smiled (yes, we would never have begun a sentence with the word ‘and’ either) and said, “Tommy, you see a lot in the flames, don’t you?”
This old woman, who had been through a lot in her life, could be mischievous, humorous and profound, all at the same time. In an age when most folk were converting to gas boilers she was adamant that she was keeping the fire: the living fire. In that fire, many stories unfolded and played out before the eyes.
We don’t use a fire at advent – that’s for Easter – we use a candle, and for a good reason. The advent wreath is about marking time, but not the passing of time, the here and now. Too much fire and light would make us wander; a candle focuses on the here and now. Paradoxically, the advent wreath roots us in what’s going on now.
We call Jesus the Lord of Light. He sheds his light upon us gradually though; not all at once. Too much light and we get blinded, like Paul on the road to Damascus. The Lord of Light is gentler on most of us and sheds his light little by little; not a blazing furnace but a gentle candle.
PRAYER AND MEDITATION SUGGESTION
If you can, light a candle and let it focus your thoughts. St Fillan’s is open every day for prayer, so why not pop in and light a candle there?
Let the flickering flame in trance you, just stay with it. The candle will illumine your mind and the Lord of Light will gently open your heart.