“Advent through a Rose-colored Candle” (Luke 7:18-28)
Today is the Sunday of the rose-colored candle. On the other Sundays in Advent, we light violet, or purple, candles on the Advent wreath. Today, though, we light the one that is the color of rose. What is the significance of that?
Well, the color violet, or purple, is a color associated with repentance, reminding us that Advent is a season of penitential preparation. Just as John the Baptist came preaching repentance to prepare the way of the Lord, so Advent calls us to mourn our sinfulness and to repent of our sins and to bear fruit in keeping with repentance, as we prepare for our Lord’s coming. Thus the penitential purple sets a somber mood for the Advent season.
But today, in the midst of all that purple, we light the one rose-colored candle. Rose is a color associated with rejoicing. Joy breaks in, in the midst of our Advent preparation. The rose-colored candle reminds us that our Redeemer’s coming is near. “Lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh.” And so there is room for rejoicing amid the repenting.
The Introit of the Day sets the tone for the day. It begins: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” The Latin word for “Rejoice” here is “Gaudete,” and so this Sunday, the Third Sunday in Advent, is known as “Gaudete Sunday.” We find a glimmer of refreshment and joy shining in the darkness. Christmas is getting closer.
And so this is the note of joy that our lessons give us on this Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday in Advent: Even as we wait, in situations that are not always pleasant–even as we endure, having to bear up under suffering and perplexity–even so, we still have reason to rejoice. And so this morning we will be looking at “Advent through a Rose-colored Candle.”
“Advent through a rose-colored candle.” This is no Pollyanna-ish pipe dream that I am proposing. You know, we have the expression about looking at something “through rose-colored glasses.” And by that we mean an unrealistic, overly cheerful, sunny optimism that does not see the darker side of life. No, that is not what I mean when I say, “Advent through a rose-colored candle.” But I am saying that it is possible to maintain a cheerful hope and joy, even while recognizing the painful reality all around us and the painful reality within us.
Even when we are perplexed by the suffering and sorrow we feel and see all around us, there is reason to rejoice. Take the case of John the Baptist, for instance. Here he was, the great forerunner of the Lord, a man who did the will of God with boldness and faithfulness, and what kind of reward did he get for all that? He got thrown into prison and was about to get his head lopped off. How fair is that? Not very. No wonder he got perplexed and bewildered about it.
See, here’s the deal. God’s hand was upon John from even before his birth. God had marked out this man for a special mission. He would be the one to go before the Lord to prepare his way. Which is what John did. He went out as a prophet, the likes of which had not been seen since Elijah, centuries earlier. John went about in the wilderness, preaching repentance to the crowds coming to be baptized. He said that the ax was already at the root of the trees, and that every tree not bearing good fruit would be thrown into the fire. God’s judgment was coming for the proud and defiant. God’s salvation was coming for the humble and repentant. John was unafraid, calling out the powerful hypocrites, saying, “You brood of vipers.” No people-pleaser he. John even confronted the ruler of the region, Herod Antipas, rebuking him over his adulterous affair with his brother’s wife.
So John, very bold, very faithful, in carrying out the Lord’s work–and what happens? He gets tossed in the jailhouse. “This doesn’t seem right,” thinks John. “Herod is getting away with this. Why doesn’t the Lord come to my rescue? Here I thought Jesus came to make everything right! To overturn the evil ones and to come to the aid of the righteous. Yet here I sit in this prison cell. What’s wrong with this picture?” And so John sends a couple of his followers to go ask Jesus a question: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” In other words, “Are you sure we’ve got the right Messiah?”
John didn’t seem in any mood to rejoice. Who knows, he may have felt like giving up. Like, what’s the use? Did I put my faith in a false dream? Why does everything seem to be going wrong? I preached the coming judgment, bad trees getting the ax and being whacked down. Yet there is Herod, sitting untouched in his nice palace, about to get away with murder. I preached the coming salvation, coming with this Jesus–I thought. So what’s taking so long?
These were John’s questions. This was his perplexity. Maybe you’ve got some questions, too. Maybe you share some of that perplexity. You see on the news a crazed killer in Connecticut, gunning down a kindergarten class–an unspeakable horror. Where is God in all of that? Where is the justice in that? You know loved ones suffering with terrible illnesses–lingering, wasting diseases–cutting people down before their time. Loss. Divorce. Tragedy. Evil seems to be triumphing in the world, and I don’t see God doing much about it.
And when I look inside myself, the view doesn’t get much better. I see sin. I see the same old poor excuse for a Christian that I have been all along, and I don’t seem to be getting a whole lot better. What’s wrong with me? Am I even a real Christian? How long, O Lord, how long? How long will this Advent waiting last?
The problem of evil, the long wait, the endless Advent–like Narnia, “always winter, never Christmas”–this can be hard to take, hard to understand. It was for John, and it is for us. But here is what Jesus would have to say to John and to us on this Sunday of the rose-colored candle. He says, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
What Jesus is saying is this: You are perplexed because the evil seems to be triumphing and the judgment doesn’t seem to be coming. But that day will come, you can be sure of that. And the reason you can count on it is that the rest of the prophecies, the prophecies of end-time blessing, are starting to take place. And so you can be sure that the judgment prophecies will be fulfilled, as well. Look at what I’ve been doing in my ministry, Jesus says: healing the sick–the blind, the lame, the leper, the deaf. These are the signs that Isaiah prophesied, signals that the messianic age has arrived. And now they’re happening. Even the dead are being raised up–literally. In Jesus’ ministry, he would raise up Jairus’s daughter, the widow of Nain’s son, and Lazarus of Bethany. Just a few select examples, but enough to get the point across. All these miraculous blessings are a little sneak preview of what’s in store for all who put their trust in Christ. And so Jesus is preaching the good news, the gospel of forgiveness and life and salvation, to those who are poor in spirit, who know their need for a Savior. In other words, to people just like John and like us.
If Jesus did this much, he will surely do the rest. And the proof of that, in all certainty, is in the cross that Jesus will endure. If ever there was unjust suffering, this is it. If ever it seemed like evil was triumphing, it was on that day when the sky turned black and God’s own Son cried out in agony on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Never has there been anything so unfair and unjust.
Yet, paradoxically, never has there been a greater cause for joy. For God was, in Christ, rescuing the world from the grip of evil. Here is the only answer that works, ultimately. God taking the evil upon himself, and bearing the burden for us. Here is redemption for all your sins. Here is the only thing that will give you the strength and the comfort you need to rest your soul amid all the turmoil and perplexity of this troubled life. This is the only reliable reason to rejoice in any and every circumstance. It is knowing that God has dealt with the problem of evil and sin in the most decisive way. For God has given Christ to be our Savior, and by trusting in him, we share in his victory over sin and death and evil. Yes, dear loved ones, in Christ we have resurrection and eternal life ahead of us, after this often perplexing, often sorrowful, vale of tears.
And so this is the way to look at Advent through a rose-colored candle. It’s not Pollyanna pie-in-the-sky. Rather, it is realistic rejoicing, based on a sure hope, even as we repent and mourn and endure and wait. Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday in Advent, the Sunday of the rose-colored candle–this day reminds us that Christmas is right around the corner. Christ’s return to set everything right–it’s right around the corner, too. It’s getting near now.
So light a candle today. Make it a rose-colored one. It’s time to rejoice. Gaudete! “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”