Thursday, December 13, 2012

An Invitation to Joy

Our texts for this third Sunday in Advent are Malachi 3:1-4 and Luke 1:57-66, 80 and 3:1-6, which can be read here.  But for this week, I am going to diverge from talking about the texts and instead address a great worship-related question that one of our kids asked during the Children's Sermon when we introduced the Advent wreath a couple of weeks ago:  "Why is one of the candles pink?"

The answer is complex and ancient, as best as I can tell.  Here's the one I found perhaps most interesting and that seems to have drawn together ideas from several places; forgive me as I quote at length, I just couldn't think of a better way to share this!  :

"In the earliest years of the church the only church season was Lent, the seven weeks prior to Easter. Lent was a season of fasting and prayer as the church commemorated the crucifixion of Jesus. The traditional color of banners in the church during this time was a deep purple, signifying royalty, repentance, and suffering. During Lent the church lit seven candles, one for each week of the solemn season. However solemn the season, the story of Lent also has a twinge of hope and joy since the death of Christ prefigured the resurrection. So, on the third Sunday of Lent, the church was encouraged not to fast, but to feast. In ancient times on this particular Sunday the Pope would honor a citizen with a pink rose, and as time passed the priests wore pink vestments on this day as a reminder of the coming joy. When the season of Advent was instituted the church viewed it as a mini-Lent, a time for reflection and repentance (thus the [primary seasonal color of] purple). In so doing, the church adopted the first four candles of Lent and changed the third candle of Advent to pink in honor of the Lenten tradition. This is why we have a pink candle in our Advent Wreaths. --from

Over the years, the four Advent candles have come to represent hope, peace, joy and love--though many think it is the love candle that is pink, it is actually the joy candle, a splash of difference and color in the midst of the season.  In recent years the Advent emphasis has moved from being a season of repentance to being more a season of hope and anticipation--hence the shift in color for the season from purple to blue that is reflected in our worship space this year.  But I am glad that we have still held onto the candle of joy--a sign that even in seasons of darkness, light is on its way; that we are always invited to lean towards God's joy, even when we may least feel its presence.  As we light the candle this week, remember the joy of Elizabeth and Zechariah at John's long-awaited birth, and then the joy of John when he saw Jesus coming out to him at the river, ready to begin his ministry of mercy and redemption for all people.  Even if this is a dark time in your life--perhaps especially if it is--what reason might you have to light a candle for joy?

"Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up." --Anne Lamott

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