A recent visit to the Church of the Redeemer in downtown Toronto brought back the memory of a visit I made there on the First Sunday of Advent some years ago. What I remember so distinctly is that there was no Advent wreath of the kind I was accustomed to seeing. You know of what I speak—an evergreen wreath in which we nestle four candles, three blue and one pink, with a larger white one in the centre to be kindled on Christmas Eve in celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus.
Instead of that sort of arrangement, the sanctuary—which in that church is wide open with the altar in the midst—was adorned with four massive wooden spools, the kind used by power companies for coiling wire and cable. Each spool was decorated with some evergreen, out of which an enormous candle rose up like a tower. At the beginning of the liturgy, the first candle was lit with prayers appropriate to the first Sunday in this holy season of waiting and watching for the Messiah. It was a lovely liturgical moment, but for all that, I thought those great candles seemed rather far apart from one another.
But that perception was dramatically changed as the Offertory hymn was sung and the entire congregation began moving forward to gather around the altar for The Great Thanksgiving and Holy Communion. Filling in all the spaces between those great wooden spools, the people became like living branches, joining candle to candle. Little children played musical instruments and some danced around that sacred circle with Christ present in bread and wine, in our very midst. It was a living wreath, alive with anticipation of the lessons and carols, the prayers and promises of this holy season. It was an amazing sign of our call to be an Advent People—a people whose hearts are turned with the prophets of old, with John the Baptist and with Mary and Joseph to the coming of Christ; a people called to embody the very hope and joy, peace and justice, that attends his gospel for the world.
It was an Advent wreath the like of which I had never seen, the like of which I will never forget.
With this remembrance come my prayers for a holy Advent and a joyous Christmas. γ
Archbishop Fred Hiltz is primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.