Gaudete in the Midst of Tragedy, or, Why the Pink Candle Will Bring Me Comfort This Year

I don’t preach as often as I used to when I was in a local church, so this blog has sort of become an outlet for me.  I’m not preaching anywhere this morning, but if I were, here’s some of what I would say…

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Today is the Sunday of the pink candle–that confusing Sunday every year when someone will ask, “why are all the candles in the Advent wreath blue (or purple) except for one?  Why one pink candle?”  Some have (erroneously) assumed that it is because we focus on Mary this Sunday.  If that were the case, then blue would be more appropriate, since that has been Mary’s color for centuries, and is actually one of the reasons we use blue in our Advent wreath now.

No, the pink candle goes back to the old days of when purple was the standard color for Advent, as it is for Lent. At the time, people used to fast during Advent–no pre-Christmas Christmas parties for our ancestors in the faith!  Like Lent, Advent was a time for reflection and introspection, a time to prepare oneself for the glorious things that would be celebrated at the time of the great feast.  But on the third Sunday of Advent, the theme was joy, a short respite in the middle of the Advent fast (there’s a pink Sunday in Lent, too…but more on that another time).  Thus, the pink candle–rose, actually–purple which has been tempered just a bit to lighten the mood, and remind us that even in the midst of great darkness, God brings Joy into our hearts.

This Sunday is traditionally called “Gaudete Sunday.”  “Gaudete” is the Latin word for “Rejoice,” and is the first word of the Latin introit for the Mass on the third Sunday of Advent…”Gaudete in Domino Semper: iterum dico, gaudete…” (“Rejoice in the Lord always, I say it again, rejoice…”)  These words from Paul to the Philippians remind us as Christians that we are to seek the joy that only God can bring, and to seek it continually, even when the world is at it’s darkest.

And the world is a pretty dark place right now.  The sadness that has overwhelmed our nation at the tragedy of Newtown Connecticut is palpable.  Everywhere–in churches and synagogues, in homes, in schools, on Facebook and Twitter–people have been asking those age-old questions that come around at times of great tragedy:

Why, God?
Where was God in all of this?
How could such a horrible thing happen to innocent people?
How can we move on from here?

These are all appropriate questions, and they  need to be asked.  As a nation, we also need to be asking ourselves about our relationship as a people to the violence that seems to pervade our culture, and the love affair we have with weaponry.  We need to have a serious talk about how guns are tools for specific purposes, that they may be necessary at times (though I would never own one myself), but that they should be treated very carefully, and only for specific purposes.  We need to have a conversation about how our country was founded by men who had a very different relationship to guns than we have today, and that while the principles they laid down are still true for us, the practices of the late 18th century hunter/militiamen are not our ways today.

But we also need to have a conversation about Joy.  Some have said that after a tragedy like the one in Newtown, we should cancel Christmas–take down the decorations, forget the pageantry, put away the expressions of Joy.  And some of that might be happening in Newtown, and I could understand why.  But for the rest of us, sad as we are about this tragedy, we cannot–we must not–let this deter us from understanding the true source and object of our Joy during this season of waiting–our great and loving God, who gave us the greatest gift of all–God’s self in our form, a Son to whom we could relate, One who would come to teach us to love, who would suffer along with us, and would provide us with a path to community with God.  Our joy as Christians doesn’t come from the superficial–the trappings and trimmings of Christmas are merely outward signs of our inward joy.  No, our joy comes from the Lord Jesus Christ, and his love and presence are needed now, just as much as they have been needed all along.

Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord always…” Always.  Not just when we feel like it.  Not just when there is lots of money, and we can buy a ton of presents.  Not just when all is well with the world, and no one has been hurt by a sick man who needed help long before he got his hands on a gun.  No, Joy is needed always–especially in the midst of tragedy.  Joy is not an emotion, but a state of mind, a way of being in the world that says, “Love wins.  Hate will come to an end.  Everything we build or cherish in this world is ultimately temporary, but the Love of God will never pass away.”

Love wins, and though it may be hard to see now, Joy is the watchword of this day, as it is of every day lived in the light of God.  May this Gaudete Sunday be a reminder to us of this truth, and may our lives be examples to everyone around us of the Joy that comes from knowing the One who brings the peace that passes all understanding.

Thanks be to God.



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