I grew up with the tradition of an Advent wreath -- four candles, one for each Sunday of Advent, and a candle in the middle. In my childhood, the central candle was always a countdown candle, thanks to the artwork of our neighbor, Grace Krabill.
When our children were little, I went back to her and learned how to paint the candle with a spiral of numbers from 1 - 25 and a scattering of holly leaves and berries. At supper each evening, the children took turns lighting the countdown candle or blowing it out. Then on Sunday evening, we'd carry the wreath to the living room, turn out all the electric lights except for the little ones on the tree, light candles around the room, and ceremoniously light the Advent candles for that week. And we would sing the appropriate number of verses from "O come, O come, Immanuel."
Now that the children are grown and out on their own, we have a Christ-candle in the middle of the wreath, and we sing "O come" in other settings.
On this third Sunday of Advent, I'm hearing the third verse of "O Come" singing through my heart, with its rather mournful melody.
O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death's dark shadows put to flight.
I'm grieving the deaths in schoolrooms in Connecticut and China. I'm holding awareness of others' gloomy clouds and dark shadows -- illness and loss of loved ones, depression, work and family stresses, discord in home or church or nation, the pain of past events, the challenges of the jolliness of this season.
I'm savoring the words of Zechariah's prophecy from Luke 1:78:
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.
The dawn, or in the words of the King James Version, the dayspring.
For those who sit with the shadow of death this day:
O come, thou Dayspring.
O come, O come, Immanuel.
Immanuel, which means God-with-us -- and which brings me back to the Christ-candle, and the phrase that the Children in Worship program has given us, the phrase that is always repeated at the end of their worship time, as the candle flame is extinguished and the smoke swirls through the room:
The Light that was in one place and one time
is now in all places and all times.
It feels very right to have a Christ-candle in the middle of our Advent wreath, and to be lighting it each evening, even as we also light the Advent candles one at a time, week by week, waiting to celebrate Christmas and the arrival of the Christ-child, the Light who was in one place and time, and now is in all places and all times, the One who can guide us into the way of peace.
My approach to contemplative photography --
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"