Monday, December 13, 2004

Advent Wreath

Found myself sitting by one tonight, and looking over at it. Do you know these things? A wreath designed to lay flat, not hang on a wall, and contain four candles, usually 3 purple, one pink. Today is Gaudet, so the pink one is now lit. But in an Advent Wreath with regular candles, the candles burn away as they are lit. Which means that, by the time you get to Gaudet, and the time for praise, two candles have been burned, and are burning now. But one is burned badly away, another is starting to fade, and the third is just started. And then there is at least one more to go, if not two. If the set includes a central white candle, the "Christ" candle, it won't get lit at all until the other four are burned; and then it will only be lit for a short time. When the others are used, it is scarcely begun.

One candle dispels a great deal more darkness than you might imagine. Accustomed as we are to lighting measured in candlepower, it's easy to forget how much candlepower one candle has. But candles are used up quickly; and if they are lit only sequentially, the rate of loss is only more evident. The first gone is giving up its light before the second one is lit; and though it prevails, it is clearly fading when it is time for the third one to burn. When it is finally time for the fourth one to glow, the first one is nearly gone. But the glow of the four together, in anticipation of the light of five....

Nature, as Annie Dillard once observed, is profligate, but wastes nothing. Burning candles is not exactly profligacy, unless you see it from the candle's point of view. One candle dispels what darkness it can, but not forever, and gives up a great deal in doing it. It burns to predict the burning of other candles, other lights, other inevitabilities. And it is a small, symbolic thing, an Advent wreath. It means so little, it means almost nothing. But if you look at it and see an illustration, an indication of what it might take to give a sign, to even be a sign, of what is here, and what is coming....

Well, it may seem like profligacy. But it won't be wasteful. It could be a sign of steady endurance; of the light passing on. A metaphor for time; and revelation. Or even the kingdom of God; here, and coming: announced; arrived; and arriving. A metaphor for living; for no life that is spent giving light, being wasted. For the value of giving light, rather than complaining about the darkness.

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