Thursday, December 3, 2015

Spirituality: "Entwined for Eternity" by Richard Leonard, S.J.

The Advent wreath has a very complex history. . . . Wreaths go back to the Etruscans, the ancient Greeks and Romans, and symbolized all sorts of things, from one’s status in society, a success or an achievement (the forerunner of the ribbon, medal, or plaque), to a fashion statement.

By medieval times, wreaths had come to be used in three ways: as symbols of the harvest; as the completion of the circle of life at funerals; and as anticipation of Christ’s coming during Advent. As best as we can make out, in Europe, during dark December, green branches were found and woven together as a promise that spring was on the way, and candles were lit as a metaphor for Christ’s birth, piercing through the darkness of our sin. It may well have had an echo of the ancient relationship between Advent and Lent, in that the wreath can also symbolize Jesus’ as-yet-unthorned crown.

It’s striking that while harvest rituals and their accompanying wreaths have largely gone, the funeral and Advent wreaths remain as strong as ever. During Advent, the wreath entwines both ideas: the completion of our lifetime journey; along with the final unveiling, or the apocalypse, of Christ.

As painful as death and grief are, and the end of time may be, the Advent wreath symbolizes both the completion of the cycle of life and our hope in Christ’s reign beyond time and space, where we hope and pray that our parting from those we have loved in this world is not a definitive “goodbye,” but more a “see you later.”

Source: Richard Leonard, S.J., What Are We Waiting For?: Finding Meaning in Advent and Christmas, pp.31-36.