Sunday, 13 December 2015

Think Pink!

This sermon was preached on the morning of Sunday 13th December 2015; Advent 3, or Gaudete Sunday. The readings for the day were Zephaniah 3:14-20, Isaiah 12:2-6, Philippians 4:4-7 and Luke 3:7-18.

Christmas; it starts earlier every year, doesn’t it? Or at least it seems to. All of the big department stores have been playing ‘I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day’, ‘Santa Baby’ and - let's face it - a handful of other Christmas songs on a loop since November, and the local Co-op has been selling Advent calendars and selection boxes since before they removed the Halloween sweets and masks from the shelves.

It’s not just the shops though; I am friends with a colleague on Facebook who posted a photo of his neighbour’s house, all decked out in Christmas lights. No harm in that, now is there? Except he took the photo and posted it to Facebook on September 12th. There’s a part of me that wonders whether his neighbours did it purely to annoy him…!

It’s still Advent, and I bet some of you are sick of Christmas already!

It is still Advent. Today is Advent 3 – known as Gaudete Sunday. And today, we have lit the third candle on our Advent wreath. The odd one out. The weird pink one, whereas the other three in the ring are purple.

When I was a bit younger, I used to wonder whether we’d run out of purple candles. I figured that the verger had gone to the drawer in the vestry only to find that we were one short, and rather than going down to the hardware store trying to find a way to avoid the hassle of asking for Four Candles, “No,” he’d say, “actual candles; I know it’s a bit like that Two Ronnies sketch, but I really don’t want handles for forks. I mean, who actually buys those? A quartet of candles please.”, instead of all of that, he just decided to use that random pink one in the back of the drawer as well. People might not notice...

Then I saw, however, that we do it every year. Three purple and one pink. It’s purposeful.

When the Church first started the tradition of Advent, the idea was that it was a corollary to Lent. When we first started to celebrate Advent in the ninth century, like Lent, it was actually forty days, and started on 12th November – perhaps those department stores, with their early seasonal songs have actually been right all along? Perhaps they’re real Christian traditionalists?

Like Lent, the season was one of penitence and waiting. A season to prepare. A ‘purple’ season – purple is the colour of penance. And, like Lent, it was determined that within the season, there should be some times of celebration. There’s a Sunday in Lent called Laetere Sunday; named after the introit to the Latin Mass that day – Laetere Jerusalem (‘O, be joyful, Jerusalem’). We know it more commonly as Mother’s Day. We celebrate it with roses and other flowers and the priest can wear pink vestments. Pink is a joyful colour. 

The Chuch believed we needed an equivalent in Advent. Today is like that Laetere Sunday. Its name means the same thing. Laetere and Gaudete – both mean ‘rejoice’. Today is a day to celebrate within the season of Advent. 

Alex could, if he so wished, and if we had any, have worn pink vestments today. And I’m sure you’d agree, he’d look very fetching in them, if he had done! We have a pink candle to remind us to rejoice. You almost can’t look at the colour pink without smiling; it’s a joyful colour.

Not sure pink vestments would look exactly like this...

You probably have picked up the theme already in the service today. Our readings all call for rejoicing; even our Gospel, which doesn’t mention the word, talks of the coming of the Messiah, and the expectation of the people.

So, here’s my message for today. It’s a simple one, but it’s one that this Sunday calls for – rejoice!

There are, of course, times to complain about the commercialisation of Christmas, to note the fact that the people have forgotten the meaning and the 'reason for the season', to comment upon the world leaving Christ out of Christmas, but today is not one of them.

Today, we are called to rejoice. It’s funny, isn’t it, how sometimes the people who should be the most joyful about this time of year – we Christians – can sometimes be the most sour-faced about it? We take umbrage at the fact that people get excited that Starbucks have swapped their normal green cardboard cups for red cups, and that for some, Christmas truly begins when they see the Coca-Cola advert with its truck riding along (‘Holidays are coming, holidays are coming’), or that the John Lewis advert gets people talking, but we fail to notice that in all of this, people are excited about our holy festival, about Christmas, and sometimes, more excited than we ourselves are.

Sure, perhaps they are not excited about the birth of the saviour, and are thinking instead along the lines of giving (and receiving) gifts, of seeing friends and family, or of that something different and ‘magical’ that they can’t quite put their finger on, but they are celebrating; when we, often, are not. When, sometimes instead of celebrating, we are cross that the world is celebrating wrong.

If God, as John says in our Gospel reading today, can raise up children of Abraham from the very rocks around him, and if – as Christ says later in the Gospel of Luke – if the people did not praise God, the very rocks would shout out in praise, then surely, there is something sufficiently magical (and what is a miracle if not in our limited language, ‘magic’?) and miraculous about this season to turn the celebration of the people around us into the praise of God; to recognise spiritually the holy values of love, charity and reconciliation in what the people around us are looking forward to in the season; as they declare ‘peace on earth, and goodwill to all humankind', along with those angels 2000 years ago, whether the people around us know the heavenly company they keep or not.

So, today, remember the pink candle; that break in the purple penance of Advent. ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’ – as we heard from our Philippians reading – ‘again I will say, Rejoice’. Let us, as Paul reminds us in Romans, ‘rejoice with those who rejoice’, and let us try to find God in the excitement of others in our holy and joyful season. For I believe God is doing likewise.

And, though it is early, and we are still in Advent, we are allowed today to celebrate! Let us remember the words of the carol popularised by Steeleye SpanGaudete, gaudete Christus est natus ex Maria virginae! Gaudete. Rejoice! Rejoice! Christ is born of the Virgin Mary! Rejoice!

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