We have begun a new Christian Year and another season of Advent, that time in which the Church prepares for the coming of the Lord and the celebration of Christmas. We have decked the halls and hung the greens, adorning the church spaces with garland and evergreens, trees and wreathes, bows and candles, and the dream-filled colors of red, gold, and green (with apologies to Culture Club).
While indeed those colors are typically associated with the holiday season, they actually aren’t the traditional liturgical colors for Advent (or Christmas for that matter, but that’s another story) — rather, Advent adorns itself with the colors of purple and pink, and the story behind them is rich with history and meaning for our faith.
In ancient times, the dyes used to make purple cloth were very expensive, something only a king or queen could afford. For the early Church, the 40-day season of Lent was the preparation for the Risen King, and so purple paraments and vestments and banners were used to announce the message, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” and help the Church make the journey to the cross and to Easter beyond. Right in the middle of the Lenten wilderness and the 40 days of fasting, the early Church took heart in the coming of Easter and took a moment to rejoice in the promise of salvation. So instead of dark and heavy purple, for one Sunday they lightened things up a bit and used rose or pink colors everywhere as an expression of joy. This tradition continues still through today in the vast majority of Christian communities.
Strangely enough, Advent gets its colorful traditions directly from the season of Lent. While the original 40 days of Advent got shortened to only four weeks a long time ago, and the holiday season seems now to be one of feasting more than fasting, Advent still follows the pattern of Lent by using purple colors to announce the message, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” and help us make the journey to Bethlehem and the birth of Christ our Lord. Similarly, the Church uses rose/pink colors in the middle of Advent worship to remind the people to rejoice in the promise of our coming Savior. (Perhaps you’ve seen that one solitary pink candle in an Advent wreath?)
December 16 is Gaudéte (Gauw-deh ́-teh) Sunday, the third and therefore middle Sunday of Advent, and it takes its name from a Latin word meaning “rejoice.” When Advent rejoices, it wears pink; and its joyous hue reminds us all to rejoice in the promise of Love come among us just as much as purple reminds us how that Love shall come to reign in human hearts. So, with enough Advent confidence to adorn ourselves with joy, and giving ourselves permission to be just a bit colorful, let’s start a new tradition this year and wear something pink/rose in color (much like wearing red for Pentecost) on Gaudéte Sunday as we rediscover the ancient Advent tradition of watching our Christmas joy blossom as a rose among us! (And I challenge you to find something more celebratory than the hot-pink stole I’ll be wearing!)
May the Love of God in Christ deck our halls and hearts with eruptions of joy and overflowing compassion.
“Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her king.
Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing!”