If someone came up to me and said, “Quick, give me a definition of joy,” I think I would have a hard time. On one hand, sure, I could say “extreme happiness,” but is that really the definition? Plus, I know that there are many times in my life that I have been joyful but not happy, like my grandfather’s funeral a few years back, where I felt the pain and sadness for my loss, but joy that he was freed from the bondage of his Alzheimer’s.
Yes, I am overthinking it, but that is the problem with words like “joy” that have become cliché. They tend to take on many meanings that detract from the real meaning underlying the season. The joy that we talk about when it comes to Advent and Christmas is one that comes with scripture and from the knowledge of God.
This week we light the third candle of Advent, which represents this joy. The tradition of the Advent wreath and the Advent candles is one of the later traditions to be developed. In the west, Advent began to be observed in the late 6th century as a shorter, less strict version of Lent. Just as each week of Advent has a meaning, in earlier practices, each week of Lent also had a defined meaning.
Halfway through Lent, the fourth Sunday to be exact, there was a respite from the strict fasting of the season called Laetare or “mothering” Sunday, where pink vestments were worn. On Laetare Sunday, the pope would pass out flowers and encourage people to celebrate the promise of the Resurrection. The toned-down pink color represented this respite from the dark violet of Lent.
As you may have guessed, this is where the pink candle comes from. As they condensed the seven weeks of Lent to the four of Advent, the middle week became Gaudete Sunday, which has a parallel meaning. Gaudete comes from the first word of the Latin Introit, which translates as “Rejoice.”
Contrary to what many people assume, the pink candle does not represent love, but joy, and the pink color of the candle symbolizes this respite from Advent to open up a true celebration of the joy which is found in the coming Christ.
The scripture that we have for this week is one that I call an “ordered life” reading. Like Micah 6:8, it gives us a direction of how we are to live out our lives as Christians. It starts as the Latin Introit did, “Rejoice always,” and goes on to say that we are called to perpetually live an ordered life of joy, prayer, acceptance, and exploration.
It is an interesting passage, because it does not give a Pollyannaish, “life is all perfect” view of Christianity; rather, it says that we should rejoice in everything, good and bad. Moreover, it implies that there will be times of learning and struggles, but when we do give ourselves over to the joy in Christ, we can begin to understand peace, which just happens to be the theme next week.
I think it is fitting that in the first service we will celebrate joy as we have the kids perform their Christmas pageant. I know that they will be giving a joyful presentation of the Christmas story. And through their gifts and presence, we might connect to a joy and maybe have a respite from the crazy season to experience the joy that comes from accepting the gift of Christ.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen