13 Dec 2015
“Sing aloud O daughter Zion! Shout O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!” (Zephaniah 3:14)
In the name …
Boy, do we ever need to hear and believe in the message of promised joy that is at the heart of this Sunday’s Advent Mass. You can just get sick and tired of all the bad news piled up one story of tragedy after another. I myself don’t usually read the “cute” stories that people send to me or that pop up on my computer’s home page, but nowadays I needed a break from the headlines. I need a break from hearing about the lost sense of humanity that trivializes human life so that murder can become so casual and so easily justified, and also about the shocking counter-measures that have been urged in response. So I read about a mall Santa who had taken the time to use sign-language to communicate with a deaf child and watched as that unexpected gift led to a huge smile on her face, and another who played on the floor so that an autistic child could approach at his own hesitant pace. When mall Santas slow down, income slows down, but these were not the usual stories about Christmas shopping. They were stories about Christmas joy. And are they ever appreciated at a time like this.
The First Holy Communion class lit three candles of the Advent wreath at the start of today’s Mass, including the rose candle. The same four girls and I went to a program at the Deerfield Arts Bank on Thursday as part of our catechism class in order to hear the story of Hanukah and the lighting of the candles of the menorah, which symbolize the miracle of the oil not running out during the siege of the Jerusalem Temple. This is also a miracle in our Bible and in our faith tradition. For the life of me I cannot comprehend why different has to so often lead to suspicion and conflict. I hope that we can soon rise above this tendency for the sake of the world we’re going to be leaving to these girls and their generation. We have to pass on something better. We have to have that hope that we can.
That’s part of the message of the rose candle of the Advent wreath. Rose is a lighter colour of Advent’s purple. Even while we’re right in the penitential process of realigning our lives so that they may better follow the example lived by Jesus, the promised joy of a quickly approaching Christmas cannot be kept completely confined. Even though there is work that still needs to be done, joy has already crept into the story. Advent’s purple is lightened a tinge by the expectation of the approaching Christmas wonder. And like I said, boy do we ever need that miracle this year, the miracle of joy interrupting and upsetting the pace of the everyday world. Thinking about the smiles and laughter that all of our gifts, for example, are going to share with our Adopt-A-Family family are a much needed and pleasant interruption from the headlines that bear down upon us. The headlines won’t disappear, but the collection that ends today will by next weekend give a poor family gifts under the tree that otherwise would have seen nothing. Imagining their smiles and laughter makes dealing with the headlines a little bit easier. These are the things that the rose candle symbolizes.
It’s also an important symbol to understand where it is located on the wreath. It is not the fourth and last candle, the candle right at the end of Advent’s journey, the candle right before the announcement of Jesus’ birth. The rose candle tells us of joy, thus the excited words of the prophet Zephaniah: “Sing aloud O daughter Zion! Shout O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!” The words of the prophet are no less true even though within 50 years Jerusalem will lay conquered and desolate. Or take the words of this morning’s Gospel that are attributed to John the Baptist. There is a great deal of excitement that he may be the long-awaited Messiah, the saviour of Israel. People are coming to him in the wilderness and asking what they should do. John’s advice is the first step toward a better world. Google stole it 2,000 years later when they claimed “Don’t be evil” as their corporate motto. John tells the tax collectors to be honest and not to cheat people out of their money. He’s not telling them to quit their jobs for the Romans. He’s telling them to do it with integrity and not for illicit self-gain. He told soldiers to do their duty, but to not use their weapons to extort and threaten others. It’s the same lesson again. Luke calls John’s preaching the beginning of the good news (3:18). Once again though, this first step of the gospel proclamation remains true even if it is followed by John’s execution a short time later. There’s a message in both these readings that God’s promise of joy can exist even if the story doesn’t end with the fairy tale “happily ever after.” This is why the rose candle is preceded and also followed by the penitential purple. The joy is real, but it is not yet time for it to be everlasting.
We need the oasis of Christmas joy, the reprieve of mall Santas making the time to play with special children, the warm feeling we get in being able to help those who are less fortunate than we are, the joyous expectation of the coming birth of Jesus in an animal’s manger announced in the middle of the night to poor shepherds by God’s angelic choir. We need this and we need this more when the world is so troubled. It doesn’t make the troubles disappear, but these moments of joy that sneak into our world give us the strength to continue working against all of the violence and hatred, and the prejudice they breed, because we know that we don’t have to settle for that kind of world, that there’s another way, a better way, and that in the coming birth of that little helpless child whom we honour as God, that better way has its best chance of becoming the new way for us to live. This is the message of the rose candle, and that its promise of joy may help us to work even harder to make our lives and our world worthy of the coming of Christ, for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo