Isaiah 35: 1 – 10; Matthew 1: 18 – 25_Being a Pink Candle Person_December 15, 2019

Being a Pink Candle Person

Isaiah 35: 1 – 10; Matthew 1: 18 – 25


(preached on December 15, 2019)


              Every Sunday during the season of Advent, here at the front of the church, we light candles on our Advent wreath. Three of the candles on the wreath are purple.  Traditionally, purple has been the color of royalty.  In ancient times, only kings and queens were allowed to wear it.  That’s because the dye that was needed to make purple cloth was very expensive.


Purple was the color of status and prestige.  If someone who wasn’t a king or queen wore purple, they might be put to death.  They would be accused of either impersonating the royal personage or making fun of them, and such acts were not to be tolerated.  Today, during our Christian celebration of Advent, purple is meant to show the royalty of Christ, the Kingdom of God.  Purple is meant to celebrate our conviction that Jesus is King of kings and the Prince of peace.


King of kings, Lord of lords, Prince of peace.  The color purple is a power color.  Three of the four candles on our Advent wreath are purple.  Today, on our wreath, we lit the one candle that isn’t purple:  the pink candle.  Pink is pastel, soft, gentle.  Now I’m not talking about hot pink, or fuschia.  Hot pink is really more of a bright purplish pink.  I’m talking about pink, old-fashioned pink, light pink.  Pink, like the color of the little hat that my baby daughter wore in the hospital nursery, to show that she was a baby girl: baby pink.  Purple, royal purple, is the color of power.  But baby pink is the color of joy.


You know, as I was thinking about this third Sunday in Advent, I thought about the pink candle and the joy it represents.  And it occurred to me that the color pastel pink is out of fashion.  Not only that: it seems to me that the joy we claim for this Sunday is also out of fashion.  Pastel pink has been more or less relegated to babies.  And joy?  Whatever happened to joy?  Is that a word we use?  When was the last time you said to someone, I wish you joy today?


We say, “Have a nice day,” or “I hope you’re doing well,” but do we ever meet a friend and say, “Rejoice!?”  We talk about being happy and we talk about seeking happiness, but we don’t say much about joy.  Are we even looking for joy?  It seems as if what many of us want today is to be entertained or amused.  We spend millions of dollars on flat screen TVs and movies and video games.  We spend a huge amount of time watching sports and reality TV shows.  All these things are designed to entertain and amuse us.


Think for a minute about reality TV.  That’s kind of a misnomer actually.  The “reality” these shows are supposed to represent is a carefully crafted, edited production.  On reality TV, we see what the person with the camera wants us to see.  We hear what the person with the microphone wants us to hear.  These shows don’t actually have much to do with reality as you and I understand it.  But reality TV can be entertaining: fun to watch.


Distractions can be fun.  I don’t watch a lot of reality TV, but sometimes, after a long day, I enjoy sitting down for an episode of “Judge Judy.”  Distractions can be fun, but they are designed to distract us from life.  And that distraction is happening too often.  Too often too much of our money and time are consumed by these pursuits that distract us from life.


Joy isn’t like that.  Joy, the joy we claim as we light the pink candle today, doesn’t distract us from life.  Joy involves us in life.  Joy invites us to experience life, really, deeply to experience life. Today we celebrate joy.  The joy we celebrate during Advent springs from the love of God: a God who comes to us in the birth of a human baby.  The love of God that we find in the ordinary, the everyday, the routine.


The candle of joy, with its baby pink, is different from our usual ideas about God.  We tend to understand God surrounded by the power of a king, the purple presence of a monarch.  Kings are masculine, but Jesus came as a baby.  Baby boys are not very macho.  Babies are pink.  They are vulnerable, weak, dependent.  A king brings strength, excitement, and authority.  A baby brings softness, closeness, hope, and joy.


People have always expected God to come to us dressed in purple, not pink.  People have always expected God to behave as historians have generally viewed history.  Most traditional history books carry us from page to page by the story of the struggles of mighty nations.  We read about the power plays of great leaders.  We read about the actions of those who are at the center of events, whether they are good or bad.


Most history books are interested in the mainstream, where all is visible and where the action is swift.  That’s true of our understanding of God as well.  We tend to look for God where the big action is.  In the centuries before the birth of Jesus, people waited and waited.  They expected every big catastrophe to be the one in which God would act.  They looked to every emerging nation or power to be the one that God was ushering in to inaugurate God’s kingdom.


Historian Will Durant, who was born up in the northwestern corner of our state, in North Adams, devoted much of his life to writing the history of humanity.  He wrote eleven huge volumes.  He got as far as Napoleon.  He died at the age of 90.  Near the end of his life, Will Durant talked about his life work.  He said, “History is like a river.  Most historians concentrate on the power and the turbulence at the center of the river.  I tell tales of what happened on the banks of the river.”


The three purple candles of Advent tell us that God is certainly at the center of things.  God is where the power and the turbulence are.  But the pink candle reminds us that God is also on the banks of that mighty, turbulent river.  God is also on the sidelines of the fields, where the movers and shakers make their power plays.  That’s where most of us are too.


Look at the way the story of Christmas unfolds.  The major characters are on the riverbanks. The birth of God’s own Son comes through ordinary men and women.  Mary and Joseph lived in a backwater on the margins of a mighty empire.  God’s love comes alive in humanity in the little people on the banks.  God is to be discovered in the ordinary people we encounter every day.


At Christmas, God comes to us, not in the purple of mighty kings.  God comes to us in the pink of a baby: in the ordinary, the everyday, the routine.  And, amazingly, that’s where joy can be found.  There is no joy in power, prestige, or the clashing of swords.  There is no joy in the escape we can find in being entertained or amused.  Joy can only be found in the intimacy of the ordinary.  Joy can only be found when we make ourselves vulnerable, when we risk ourselves in love.


Joy can only be found when we truly let ourselves go in trust and hope, in the people and places of our day to day lives.  For most of us, there are no people who seem so ordinary as the members of our families.  You may remember the book by Erma Bombeck, entitled “Family: the Ties That Bind and Gag.” It is a very funny book.  It also holds a lot of truth.  Families can be tough to live with.  Family ties can bind and gag us, if we don’t continually search for the new and emerging in the people we’re closest to.  But when we’re open to the new, when we risk ourselves in love for those closest to us, it can also bring joy.  That joy comes when we open ourselves to one another in trust and hope.


This is the Christmas secret of the pink candle.  This is the Christmas secret discovered by husbands and wives who always look for the new that might be emerging in their partner.  This is the Christmas secret discovered by those who have a caring curiosity about their loved ones.  This is the Christmas secret discovered by sisters and brothers, life-long friends, co-workers, anyone willing to be caringly curious about the other person.  The reality of another human being, any human being, is inexhaustible.  Each one of us is a mystery to the other.  A mystery of gladness and sorrow.  A mystery of fears and hopes.  A mystery of hurts and compassion.  We are even a mystery to ourselves at times.


In everyone’s life, there is a period of adolescence when we want to push away from those familiar riverbanks, push out beyond the bonds of family and childhood friends.  We want to strike out on our own, to discover a larger and more exciting world.  We want to leave the banks and enter the rushing river.  This is a very healthy impulse.  In fact, we worry about young people who don’t push out.  Unfortunately, though, many of us remain in that adolescent phase for our entire lives.


The light of the pink candle says that the love of God is not found in fantasies about power and excitement, fantasies we might enjoy as teenagers.  The light of the pink candle says that the love of God is found in the grown up commitment to the ordinary, the everyday, the routine.  The love of God is found when you and I reach out with a caring curiosity, to deepen relationships with those who are closest to us, to discover the new in the every day.


When we are babies, we are so vulnerable that we will die if we don’t receive love.  But as adults we will lose our lives if we don’t give love.  We will lose our lives if we don’t make ourselves vulnerable to the people close to us, if we don’t risk being open to the other.  That’s where true joy is found.


At Christmas, the pink candle glows with the joy that God has immersed God’s own self in the ordinary human condition, rooted on the riverbanks.  God comes to us in the pink of a baby: in the ordinary, the everyday, the routine.  And, amazingly, that’s where joy can be found.  It’s not likely that any one of us will become a purple candle person, a person of great power and might in the world.  But each of us, by giving and receiving love, can become a pink candle person.  So let the light of joy be born in you this Christmas.  And tell about the light all year long.








Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Advent 3