As a child who was raised in a home comprised of two religions, there were certain sacramentals and rituals that we didn’t do. For example, my mother never hung a crucifix. I have no idea what she did with her leftover Palm Sunday palms. We didn’t have the words to the Hail Mary or other traditional prayers affixed to the refrigerator like some of my friends did and we didn’t have an advent wreath. This last item was extremely perplexing to me because I knew for a fact that my father’s church had a large advent wreath in the front of their sanctuary during the appropriate season, so I knew he wasn’t against it or anything…but regardless…we didn’t have one at home.
Because of this oversight, I was denied what I consider to be one of the greatest events of the build up to Christmas…the lighting of the fourth candle on the advent wreath. I never saw it growing up…ever. Each year I would watch as the servers lit the various candles at Mass or my teacher led us in a daily reading complete with our own miniature advent wreath, but the third candle was as far as I got. By the start of the fourth week, we were on Christmas break and I had no idea what happened. Before you tell me that I still should have seen it at Mass…I have to say I had one of those moms who didn’t always adhere to the whole Holy Day of obligation thing when there was still shopping to do, gifts to wrap and food to prepare. Not only that, but she still and to hold down a 40-hour a week job at a time when bosses didn’t understand “flex scheduling.” As a result, if the fourth Sunday of Advent occurred a few days before we would have to double back to Mass for Christmas Eve services…guess which one we attended?
So I never saw the fourth candle lit and it wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I first saw a completely lit Advent wreath. There is something so amazing about the sight go the candles glowing after a month of preparations. The short stubby first week candle looks like it has been through Hell and back while the rest stair step to the nearly pristine fourth candle. (By the way, it always seemed like the fourth candle gets a raw deal in the whole production as it is lit for far fewer days – especially on years when Advent seems shorter than others.)
As silly as it may sound, my kids know that I get absolutely giddy over the fourth Sunday in advent as much if not more so than Christmas itself. Now that I have my own advent wreath, there is no “missing week” and nothing is incomplete. The season of preparation unfolds as it should and I don’t feel like I skipped ahead somehow. The way I see it, God didn’t intend for us to skip over the portions of His story and only show up for the good stuff. He wants us there for it all and He is there to light the way. If you are a parent like my mom who thinks missing one Mass is no big deal, I beg of you…take the time. Let them see the fourth candle. Let your children complete their advent journey. even if they don’t have a handle on the whole thing yet, trust me…they think about it. They won’t tell you, but deep down inside, they have been building to something and when it’s not there…well it’s not the same. Take it from someone whose been there. Don’t snuff out the light inside of them.