December 16, 2012
Being a Pink Candle Person
Texts: Zephaniah 3: 14-20, Philippians 4:4-7, Luke 3: 7-18
During Advent, the days grow shorter as we approach the birth of Christ. The world deals with the increasing darkness by plugging in more artificial lights. In December it is difficult to find a shop window or home not bright with the sparkle of white or colored lights and it is wonderful to have those lights announcing the joy of Christmas.
While the outside world is bright with Christmas lights, the spiritual realm remains dark during the season. The light, such as it is comes from the slim candles on the Advent Wreath. Week by week, as the days grow darker, we light another candle, but never all at once, at least, not until the True Light has come.
That is why we are glad for this Sunday of Advent. After a couple of weeks of heavy judgment texts we may be ready to shout, “Give me a break!” This day, traditionally known as Gaudete, or “joy” Sunday is exactly what we need. In the intensity of the preparation for Christmas, somber Advent hymns, calls to repentance, comes the invitation to rejoice.
The prophet Zephaniah says, “Rejoice and exult with all your heart; the Lord, your God, is in your midst.” Paul writes to the church in Philippi, “Rejoice in the Lord, always, and again I say, rejoice….the Lord is near.” In Luke 3, John the Baptist preaches a message that calls people to be prepared: “Be prepared because someone is coming who is going to change all of you and consequently the whole world.”
And, our Shalom Choir sings…. “Soon and very soon…” (Anthem by gospel singer/songwriter, Andraé Crouch
When we speak of “joy” at Christmas, what do you think about? What would you say most people think about? Perhaps it is gift giving? The giving and receiving of gifts is central for most people at Christmas. Is this the source of the joy? Sometimes it is mixed as people wonder if there is more to the Christmas holiday.
A few years ago, a pastor colleague from Louisiana passed on this story as he mourned the fact that people forget the real reason for Christmas joy. I think it will be a story we can all relate to. It is called “Joy to the Mall.” And, friends, after being in a mall yesterday and trying to find a parking place and then trying to leave the parking place, well, here it goes:
“And it came to pass in those day that a decree went out from the Department of the Treasury that all America should go shopping. And all went out to shop, each in his own mall. And a certain Christian also went up out of his house and into town because he was of the house of Prosperity. And, with him, was his wife, who was great with gift ideas.
And, so it was, that, while they were there, the days of shopping were accomplished; they found many expensive presents: sweaters, coats, IPods, computers, games, sports equipment and various other overpriced gifts. And, his wife, brought forth her pocketbook and paid cash for those they could afford, wrote checks for those they could afford with next week’s paycheck, and charged those which they could not afford.
And they brought home the gifts and wrapped them in bright paper and laid them in the garage, for there was no room for them in the closets. And, there was in the same country, children keeping watch over their stockings by night. And, lo, Santa Claus came upon them, and they were sore afraid (for he was to judge if they had been naughty or nice). And Santa said unto them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people with money. For unto you is given this day in your warm home a great feast of turkey and dressing and many presents. And, this shall be a sign unto you: you shall find the presents, wrapped in bright paper, lying beneath the tree.”
And they went downstairs and suddenly there was a multitude of relatives, praising each other and saying, “Glory to you for giving me this gift. It is just what I’ve always wanted.” And it came to pass, as the relatives were gone away unto their own homes, the husband and wife said to each other, “I sure am glad that is over. What mess! Let us pick up a little.”
The story goes on…..”And as they picked up, they found under the wrapping paper the baby Jesus from the crèche which had been knocked over in all the excitement. And, they looked at each other, and went with haste, and found their children and brought them before the baby Jesus in the manger. And, when they had seen it, they made known to their children that which was told concerning the child; that this was the Savior, who is Christ the Lord, the true reason for Christmas.”
“The children, who heard this, wondered at those things which their parents told them. But, they kept these thoughts and pondered them in their hearts. And, as a family, they worshipped, glorifying and praising God, for the gift of Jesus and promising that next year they would not forget.”
The joy of Christmas! Is it only in the pleasure of gift giving and receiving?
What is joy? True joy, the Christian joy we seek, comes not only from our holiday gift-giving, the glitter and fun of winter holiday events, but Christian joy, also, comes from honest, truthful, turning toward God’s presence.
The candle we light the 3rd Sunday of Advent is the pink candle; it is the color that will remind us of joy which involves us in an “everyday,” non-glitter life. The light for joy is not a purple candle. Purple has its place; we think of God coming with the power and might of a King. Kings are visible, colorful, powerful, and mighty. They bring authority, action, strong statements. We need purple but we also need “baby” pink. Baby “pink” reminds us that babies are vulnerable, weak and dependent, not very macho!
The “pink” candle will remind us that “joy” is often to be found in the quiet moments, the expectant moments, the moments of struggle when we feel God’s presence in the mundane, the ordinary, the day to day coping. The pink candle will draw us to our vulnerable, weak and dependents selves; the “self” that needs to depend on God’s presence and the love and support of others.
Yes, the story I just told is to help us remember that real joy, gospel-induced joy comes in remembering God with us, even when our lives are difficult, our plans are shattered, and our children are murdered. God is with us in days of sadness, grief, loss. How our hearts are breaking for those who have suffered losses in recent days, those who experienced the news of the murder of children and teachers in a school in Newtown, CT. How our hearts are breaking as we hear news from around the world, with violence and destruction of homes and families in Syria, in the Congo, in Pakistan or in the Philippines. Where is joy when we know that life will no longer be the life we hoped or imagined? Where is joy when life is immersed in sadness and grief?
The pink candle reminds us that God is with us, whatever our circumstance and need, and God calls us to know God in this spiritual life, in relationship to the Eternal One. How? By risking ourselves in love and anticipating God’s love holding us and helping us through the most difficult times we’ll face. Yes, it matters greatly that we remember, eventually, God’s presence will bring joy because we can be honest and truthful with who we are and with what our needs are. God listens and cares and, I believe, sends us people (bright human “lights”) to comfort us and to help us in the healing of our broken hearts.
Luke tells us John the Baptist preached a message of the nearness of the Messiah. The people responded, “What then shall we do?” And, basically, John told the people that they need to make the most of the present moment. How do we make the most of our present moments?
Perhaps, we resolve to once again to be pink candle “people.” For me, perhaps, for you, it means trying to allow God’s love to come alive in human existence in the little ways that matter. It means as a church being faithful to our covenant to let our lights shine by living Christmas peace and joy through the year. It means, as Father Juniper Serra said so wisely, “Always go forward, never turn back.” We have much to offer as the Congregational Church of Almaden Valley, UCC, to the communities around us and we look forward to our New Year and opportunities to share gospel-induced joy!
One more thought about joy! As Paul Scherer shared in his writing, the fundamental joy of being a Christian consists not in being good. I get tired of that. But in standing with God against some darkness or some void and watching the light come (and helping the light come). The joy of faith is in having your fling, by the mercies of God, at shaping where you are, as potter shapes a vase, one corner of God’s eternal kingdom.
Let us be “pink” candle people; people who are immersed in the mystery of gladness and sorrow, fear and hope, hurt and compassion and always rooted in God’s love. Amen. Amen.