Dec
2016

That Pink Candle. . .

Having grown up in a non-liturgical church (I don’t believe I knew about the seasons of the church year, apart from Easter and Christmas, until college), I always wondered why, in some traditions, the candle for the third Sunday of Advent is pink, not purple.  I always assumed that it had something to do with the veneration of Mary–but, as happens far more often than I care to admit, I was wrong.

In the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, the third Sunday in Advent is Gaudete Sunday, so called for the first word in the Latin introit for this day, “Gaudete in Domino semper“–from Philippians 4:4-5:  “Be glad in the Lord always.”  The Greek word chairete does mean “be glad;” but in the Latin Vulgate, it is rendered as gaudete, which means “rejoice.” That is the reading followed in the NRSV, as well as in the KJV, which is the version I hear in my head:

Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.

The website “About Catholicism” explains the rose-colored candle, and vestments, for this day:

Like Lent, Advent is a penitential season, so the priest normally wears purple vestments. But on Gaudete Sunday, having passed the midpoint of Advent, the Church lightens the mood a little, and the priest may wear rose vestments. The change in color provides us with encouragement to continue our spiritual preparation—especially prayer and fasting—for Christmas.

Gaudete Sunday means that the time of waiting and preparation is nearly over–that Christmas, and more importantly, Christ, is on the way!  The message of the rose-colored candle, then, is hope.  Hold on.

I seem to need that Gaudete message this Advent more than ever. In my last post, I shared some of my wrestlings related to our recent election.  But I also shared this passage from the book 0f Joel:

After that I will pour out my spirit upon everyone;
        your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
        your old men will dream dreams,
        and your young men will see visions.
In those days, I will also pour out my
    spirit on the male and female slaves (Joel 2:28-29).

In contrast to many prophets–and particularly, to Amos and Micah–we know nothing at all about Joel apart from his name: no dates, no historical references, no places, no background.  Reference is made to an agricultural crisis, a locust plague, but we have no clues about which plague, when.

Perhaps, in part, this is the point.  Joel has been cut loose from history so as to speak to any and every time of uncertainty and fear–including our own.  Indeed, already within the span of this short book, the locusts become a metaphor: first, for invading armies (see Joel 2:1-11), and finally for cosmic destruction:

I will give signs in the heavens and on the earth—blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood before the great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.  But everyone who calls on the LORD’s name will be saved (Joel 2:30-32).

Yet Joel’s prophecy is not, after all, about impending doom.  In the face of tragedy, Joel calls upon the community to fast and pray, assuring them that God will respond to their repentance with deliverance.  They have not been abandoned to their fates: the prophet promises that “everyone who calls on the LORD’s name will be saved” (Joel 2:32).  Joel is the prophet of hope.

As I noted last time, this passage from Joel was quoted by Peter (Acts 2:14-21), who found in Joel’s words a way to understand the outpouring of God’s Spirit he and his fellow Christ-followers had just experienced (see Acts 2:1-12).  God’s future had broken into the world in Jesus, but he had been taken from them: first crucified, then miraculously raised from the dead, but finally ascended into divine glory.  The outpouring of God’s Spirit made plain that Jesus was still at work, in and through his church, and that far from being abandoned, they were called, empowered, and sent forth in the confidence that God’s future was still breaking in.

Similarly, Jesus himself alluded to Joel’s vision of the day of the LORD:

In those days, after the suffering of that time, the sun will become dark, and the moon won’t give its light.  The stars will fall from the sky, and the planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken.  Then they will see the Human One coming in the clouds with great power and splendor.  Then he will send the angels and gather together his chosen people from the four corners of the earth, from the end of the earth to the end of heaven (Mark 13:24-27).

Jesus, like Joel, was no Pollyanna optimist.  Everything is not all right, he tells his followers; indeed, times are tough, and will get tougher.  But the end is in the hands of God, who will not abandon God’s own.  At that time, God’s angels will lead us all home, to share in Christ’s just and joyous reign.  So until that time, we may live our lives confidently: not in despair, but in hope.

When I was a young Christian, I learned to sing the Philippians 4:4 passage that gives Gaudete Sunday its name as a round–I invite you to join me in singing it today. Perhaps it is in uncertain times that we learn that we can indeed “Rejoice in the Lord always.”

 

 

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