Candle, Candle Burning Bright

From Shabbat to Advent


A match is struck.

The woman’s hand pauses as the match flares with an arc of golden light, and then touches the flame to the wick of each candle. Extending her hands over the candles, she draws their light towards herself and her family in a circular manner three times.

“Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with your commandments, and instructed us to kindle the light of the Holy Shabbat.”

Every Friday night, this simple practice in Jewish homes has been passed down through the ages and is still observed today. With the lighting of the candles, Sabbath peace and blessing is ushered into their homes and the world. The candles represent the light introduced through studying and observing the words of the Scripture.

Each time, a pattern is followed—

Pause . . . 

            breathe . . . 

                          light a candle . . . 

                                       pray . . .

There is no Sabbath pause today. Sunday is as busy as the next day . . . and the next, and the next after that. Where is the practice of pausing, breathing and remembering in our devotion?

The lighting of Advent candles comes close. Somehow reflecting on the simplicity of the candle-lighting ritual brings a sense of peace and calm to our overwrought souls. In our activity-defined lives, we seldom embrace such acts. Instead, our chaotic world demands we run at a constantly increasing pace, with no relief in sight.

When my children were little, I made an Advent wreath for our home. With four candles for each Sunday before Christmas, I taught them words they didn’t completely understand as they took turns lighting the appropriate candle; on the first three Sundays in December we whispered, “In anticipation of Christ’s coming,” and on the final Sunday we announced, “The preeminence of Christ’s coming.” We paused in the midst of the hurried holiday season to light a candle and to eat dinner by its light. I placed a handcrafted manger in the center of the wreath as we waited for the mystery of Christmas to arrive. On Christmas morning, baby Jesus appeared in the manger. It was the first thing they ran to see, even before presents under the tree. 

During the church service each Sunday in December, we remember Christ’s words and respond by singing the chorus of the Advent hymn:

Candle, candle, burning bright,

Shining in the cold winter nigh

Candle, candle, burning bright,

Fill our hearts with Christ’s own light.

In repeating the words of the hymn, we choose to believe that, with the lighting of each candle, the blessing of God Almighty and his peace is ushered into our hearts, homes and the world. 

So, we pause . . . 

          breathe . . .

                    light a candle . . . 

                              and pray.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Shine in our hearts and light our way.