Planning for your Advent wreath – and that pink candle

A couple of days earlier, I published a carol with accompanying responses that could be used for the lighting of the Advent wreath. It seems to me that there are some issues around how we do the Advent wreath in church which are worth a follow up post.

Copyright Nick MacNeill via Geograph used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 licence

You won’t be surprised that I follow a traditional schema for the four Sundays of Advent:

  1. Our ancestors in faith (The patriarchs)
  2. The prophets of Israel
  3. John the Baptist
  4. Mary the Mother of the Lord

I have noticed, I think particularly in relation to schools, the idea of theming the four candles as Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace seems to be becoming more apparent. This also seems common on American websites, so possibly it originates there.

I would like to encourage churches to resist this practice, however important these virtues are for us. I think it is more important to tie this preparation of Christmas to the story that leads up to it, Israel’s story without which the Christmas events make no sense. The birth of Jesus is a particular event in history, and every history is a history of a particular people, tribe and place as well as part of a more general global history.

It was the stories of their Old Testament past, the poems and prophecies of that past, that the earliest Christians drew on to shape their stories, and guide them in their understanding of Jesus. Indeed, it was those stories Jesus himself drew on to shape his own self-expression and framing of his identity and mission.

Those of us who tell the story for today’s world need to stay anchored in that same biblical story, so that the birth of Jesus is seen not just as the beginning of a Christian story, but a chapter in the Jewish story. Christian people often – at all times but perhaps particularly at Christmas and Easter – seem to need reminding that Jesus is Jewish.

The other brief note I shall mention is a cause of confusion and argument in many a vestry. When you place an order for your candles, you will either end up with a set where you have four red, and one white, or three purple, one pink, and one white. The first set is fairly obvious, four red candles for the Sundays of Advent, and the white one for Christmas.

The problem comes with the pink one in the other set. This is intended for use on the third Sunday of Advent. It marks a particular note of joyous hope part way through the Advent season. This Sunday has been known historically as Gaudete Sunday. This comes from the first word in Latin of the entrance antiphon (scripture verse used at the beginning of the Eucharist).

Rejoice (Gaudete) in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.
Indeed, the Lord is near.

From Philippians 4:4-5

The idea that the pink candle is for Mary, and therefore the last Sunday of Advent, seems to be the result of mistaken guesswork. These guesses may have been based on our cultural association of the colour pink with girls. However, pink only became a colour strongly associated with girls in the mid-twentieth century. Before the last century it was as likely to be used for boys as girls. The colour most traditionally associated with Our Lady is blue.

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