Advent 3 Matthew 2:2-11 December 15, 2019
When you look around at all the stores right now you might think the main color of the season is red and maybe red and green. It is so easy to lose sight of the true colors of the season--the Advent season--purple and pink.
This week, the third Sunday of Advent, we use the color pink which represents joy. It turns out, the Church has a good reason for putting one pink candle in the Advent wreath. To understand the story of the pink candle, we first have to look at the history of the season and the wreath.
Advent was started near the end of the fifth century. The only season Christians observed up to that point was Lent as a preparation for Easter. In order to prepare for Christmas, the Church established Advent in the spirit of Lent--as a season of reflection and penance.
The custom of the Advent wreath started with pre-Christian Germanic peoples whose evergreen wreaths and fires signified hope in the darkness of December. Christians maintained the tradition and by the 16th century German Catholics and Protestants were using the wreath to symbolize hope for Christ's coming. And the practice spread throughout the Christian world.
Some people understand the wreath's four candles to represent the first Advent before Christ's birth, with each week commemorating 1,000 years from Adam and Eve until the Nativity.
Purple candles stand for prayer, penance, and sacrifices and good works done during the Advent season, as we also wait for the Lord's second coming.
We assign the candles in the wreath with specific names which we can reflect on as we light them and pray: the first is hope, the second is peace, the third is joy and the fourth is love.
A pink candle that signifies joy makes sense since It is lit on Gaudete Sunday--named for the entrance antiphon for that Sunday's Mass: "Rejoice (Gaudete) in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice" The joy is subdued as the penitential violet of the other weeks lessens to rose as we move closer to Christmas.
As Advent is patterned in part after Lent, Gaudete Sunday is similar to the Lenten Laetare Sunday, which also represents joy and falls at the midpoint of Lent.
And that finally leads to the explanation for the pink candle. In the ancient Church on Laetare Sunday in Lent, the Pope gave a citizen a pink rose. The tradition has continued, as popes bestowed golden roses on Catholic rules and now more commonly, on places of devotion.
Following the papal rose custom, bishops and priests began wearing rose-colored vestments on Laetare Sunday. The Church then brought the Lenten practice of rose vestments to Advent on Gaudete Sunday. As a result, the pink candle gained a place in the Advent wreath.
Although the culture tells us it's already Christmas, the Church reminds us through the pink candle of Advent that there is an appointed time for everything (Eccl. 3:1). The time now is for rejoicing--because the Lord is coming soon!
Of course we are not going to change the culture. They, and us, are too busy celebrating Christmas now, Office parties, too much drinking, busy buying presents and it is foolish to try to talk about real preparation to receive Jesus with a greater joy than last year.
We have a very nice Christian symbol in this Advent wreath. And today is the Sunday of Joy. I am going to suggest that we read the Magnificat again. This time in the more modern version.
This is also called "Stir Up Sunday" from the opening words of the Collect. Let's read it like our faith is stirred up.