Psalmody: Isaiah 12:2-6
December 12, 2021
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Blue or Purple (technically the color is violet…but I have never been good with colors)? This question usually gets debated around this time of the year on many of the liturgical Facebook groups in which I regularly participate. Should we use blue or purple for Advent? I was born right around the time this changed occurred so I missed the real fights that took place—though from what I understand, these were nothing like that of the ash wars in the Lutheran church. For the most part, Lutheran churches today use blue for their paraments during Advent, but not all. One of my congregations in my first call did not own a blue set so we used purple at St. Paul’s and blue at Mt. Joy. Is there a right answer to the question? If you were to ask my preference, I like purple because I am simply a grouch at this time of the year and purple reminds of me the season of Lent when I get to be miserable all the time and people just think I am religious. Blue is too happy. Wendi went out this week and bought Pastor Diane and special Christmas hats. Diane got a traditional Christmas hat and I got this. Yes, that says ba-humbag. So is there a right answer? Blue or purple. Let’s turn to the to the Manual on the Liturgy and see what the experts have to say:
The traditional color of Advent is purple, the royal color of the coming king. The preferred color in the Lutheran book of Worship, however, is blue which has a precedent in the Swedish church and in the Mozarabic right. Blue suggests hope, a primary theme of Advent.
But I think it is interesting that Philip Pfatteicher says about the paraments. If a congregation is to use purple or violet paraments for Advent, they should be different from the ones used in Lent so as to distinguish between Advent as a season of hope and Lent as a season of penitential reflection. But maybe the real reason I like the purple over the blue is because of the candles. Now I checked this out to make sure and while there is no exact prescription for the color, but typically the candle color match the color of the paraments. So, you usually see either all blue or three purple and what most people call a pink candle. The color is actually rose. Jesus didn’t pink from the grave, he rose from the grave. “Up from the grave he a rose…” But to my surprise, the color of the candles does not need to match the paraments. According to the manual, you just need four candles. Which is pretty cool because I have seen all kinds of combinations: 3 purple and 1 pink, 3 blue and 1 pink, all blue, all white, and even red candles (a common German and Scandinavian custom). But today is the day we light the rose color candle is because the third Sunday in Advent marks the turning point in the liturgical season.
The third Sunday in Advent is traditionally called Gaudete Sunday which is latin for Rejoice. The reason we call it Gaudete Sunday is because the first two readings always seem to focus on rejoicing. From the words of the prophet Zephaniah - “Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!” And from Saint Paul, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” These two lessons stand is stark contrast to what John says this day, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” I think we need this reminder to rejoice today. It’s so easy to lose sight of Jesus in the midst of the clang and bang of Advent—of readying ourselves, our homes and our families for Christmas. As Advent finds us ramping up – midweek services, pageants, decorating, candlelight services, and more; add in a pandemic that never seems to end, communion practices that don’t feel “normal,” masks and distancing on top of all of it; the clutter and clatter overwhelms and we lose sight of the hope this season brings. We need this Sunday, in the midst of all the chaos that is December to remind us about the importance of rejoicing— to rejoice in the hope of what is to come.
And what is to come is not Christmas. Well, I guess it technically that is in our future, but as we have discussed, we are not preparing ourselves for the festival of Christmas but for the return of Christ—what the Hebrew Prophets call the Day of the Lord. In the midst of all that pulls us away and distracts us, the prophet Zephaniah and St. Paul reminds the church to rejoice.
And you know something, I need to hear this reminder this week. I have been in a mood all this week and it is not because I got this amazing hat. I was a grouch before that. I need to be jolted from this season of racing from here to there. I need to be jolted from just keeping my head down as I jump from one thing to the next. I need to be chastened to rejoice again in this season of hope. I like what Bishop Gohl wrote in his weekly newsletter this week: Just as we “need a little Christmas right this very minute,” we also need joy that calls us away from worry and back to the peace of God.”
Yet on this day as the Church is reminded to rejoice, I think about how we spend 1 trillion dollars a year, globally, on Christmas every single year. 1 trillion dollars is a lot of money. According to a study backed by the German Government, it would cost 330 billion a year to end world hunger. That is still less than what we spend on Christmas. 700 million people throughout the world go to bed hungry at night. Even in our own community, there are not just adults but children who face hunger insecurities every single day. And while the schools are able to provide some of a child's food needs, but what about at night? What about over the weekend? The fact that programs like the weekend backpack program, which supplies kids with food that they can make themselves and packages the food in discrete book bags to avoid the harsh stigma associated with having food insecurity—the fact that programs like these exist is both a joy and utter sadness especially as we live in the richest nation in the world. How can we expect children to learn and grow into functioning adults when they don’t know where their next meal is coming from? We are the richest nation in the world and there are people who are dealing with food insecurities, lack of affordable housing, and lack of adequate housing in our own community each and every day. And yet, we will spend 1 trillion dollars this year, globally, on Christmas— a day in which we celebrate a baby being born to poor family where the mom had to give birth in a cave because nobody in Bethlehem was willing to give up their room for her.
This reality makes me angry and yet, even in this reality which we find ourselves living, we are called to rejoice not in our reality, but in the coming reality of God. We are called to rejoice because our Lord is near. The day of the Lord is coming. For on this day, our God will gather the Lame and outcast, on this day the mighty and the tyrants will be cast from their thrones from on high so that the lowly maybe lifted up. On this day as the prophet Zephaniah reminds us, God will look to her daughter, Jerusalem, God will look to Jerusalem and will take away any judgements against her. On this day, on this most glorious day of the Lord, we will draw water from the wells of salvation. On this day we will, Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted. It is a day in which the people of God will celebrate because God has acted. That is why we are called to rejoice—we rejoice because a better day is near and coming soon.
We need this Sunday. We need this reminder of what we are to rejoice in this day. And that is your project for today. In your bulletin, you will find a white sheet of people. Taking the advice of our psalmist this day, I want you to draw or write about rejoicing. I want you to read one of the three appointed lessons today take 15 minutes; read one of the three lessons appointed for today: Zephaniah, Isaiah, or St. Paul which we did not read but is well known: Philippians 4:4-7; and then reflect upon the words of one of these reading. Take 15 minutes and either draw or write down anything and everything that comes into your head. 15 minutes of no interruptions. Don't check you phone, don't turn on the tv, put down all the books, ignore all the projects you still need to do around the house. 15 minutes to simply ponder the theme of rejoicing. The hardest part of this whole assignment is not the actual writing or drawing, it is going to be able to find 15 minutes and not get distracted, right? But as Bishop Gohl reminded us, Just as we “need a little Christmas right this very minute,” we also need joy that calls us away from worry and back to the peace of God.”
Our world is in some serious need of joy. Our world needs something to rejoice in that is not rooted in holiday chaos. We need to teach the world how rejoice again. "Rejoicing does not negate or turn a blind eye to despair. Rejoicing does not somehow make the suffering go away or minimize the injustice. Rather, rejoicing acknowledges that we are serving the one and only God who can rectify the wrongs, who can—and has—stood in solidarity with the oppressed. Rejoicing in the face of gross injustice is a courageous act, a theological hope lived out in the present that stems from a vision of God’s shalom—a shalom so glorious that it is transforming and claiming life even in the present." While the world might be saying all we need is a little Christmas right now which is mostly just loud chaos to make everything better, we know the truth. What world really needs right now and that is something to rejoice in.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.