May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy! He that goes forth weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him. [Psalm 126:5-6 (RSV)]
Colors have been used to differentiate liturgical seasons since the 4th century and, by the 12th century, Pope Innocent systemized their use in the church. Originally Advent was about penance, prayer and fasting in preparation for baptism so purple (the color associated with sacrifice and repentance from sin) was its liturgical color. Like the Advent wreath, however, liturgical colors are merely traditions and have no basis in Scripture. Most denominations have added more colors to the original five.
Representing the traditional Advent color of penitence, three of the four candles on our wreath are purple. This Sunday’s candle, however, is pink—the traditional color of joy and happiness—and the day’s Scripture readings are joyful ones. They start with the good news for the oppressed found in Isaiah 61 followed by the psalmist’s promise of a harvest of joy in Psalm 126. In the gospel, the good news of Isaiah 40 is repeated by John the Baptist and, in the epistle, Paul tells the Thessalonians always to be joyful. After the somber and apocalyptic readings of the last two Sundays, these readings are a welcome change. In the Roman Catholic Church, this Sunday is known Gaudete Sunday. The name comes from the Latin translation of Philippians 4:4—Gaudete in Domino sempe meaning “Rejoice in the Lord always”—which were the first words of the introit for mass on the third Sunday of Advent.
Those words, however, shouldn’t be limited to this one Sunday because Paul’s words weren’t a suggestion; they were a command! Reasons to rejoice, however, seem to be in short supply right now and, rather than rejoicing, many are grieving. While some may grieve the actual loss of loved ones, we’re all grieving the loss of our sense of normalcy. Christmas is a holiday filled with long-standing traditions, many of which won’t be observed this year. In a season when friends and family are front and center, we won’t be home for the holidays or gathering with those we love. A malicious virus will keep us from travel, festive parties, visits to Santa, holiday parades, crowded candlelight Christmas Eve services, Christmas markets, neighborhood potlucks, cookie exchanges, and the annual sing-along Messiah. This pandemic seems to have stolen Christmas the way the Grinch did when he terrorized Whoville by stealing all the Christmas presents, food, and decorations.
But, let’s remember—when the Grinch heard every Who down in Whoville sing joyfully on Christmas morning, he realized that Christmas didn’t come from a store! The lighting of this candle of joy will remind us of that same thing. Christmas isn’t about enjoying family and friends and observing decades old traditions. It’s about rejoicing in the good news that a Savior was born—rejoicing that because Jesus atoned for our sins, rather than being separated from God, we are His sons and daughters. It’s rejoicing that Heaven will be our home someday. It’s rejoicing that, even though we plant in tears, we will harvest in joy! Whether or not you light the candle of joy on an Advent wreath, be sure to rekindle the candle of joy in your heart!