Sunday, October 25, 2009

What Color Should My Advent Candles Be?

I'm very excited about observing the coming Liturgical Year. But it didn't take long before I ran into a snag. What type of season is Advent?

I've discovered that historically (and here) it has been a penitential season but that in more recent times the focus has changed to anticipation and hope. The latter theme was so prominent in my own understanding of Advent that when I first read that Advent was a penitential season I thought for sure the writer didn't know what he was talking about. I was the ignorant one. As a matter of fact Advent is sometimes referred to as "little lent."

Many feel so strongly about preserving the meaning of Advent that they will refrain from singing Christmas songs during Advent. But as we know American commercialism starts "Christmas" as early as September or earlier. Advent gets pulled into the prevailing atmosphere of good tidings and joy so any thoughts of repentance would just be perceived as a bit of a kill joy.

In light of the focus on hope and anticipation many churches have changed the colors of advent from purple to royal or bright blue as a sign of royalty or the night sky in anticipation of the announcement of the newborn king. Now I certainly don't have any credibility to weigh in on this debate but I found it an interesting one. My inclinations are to keep to the more traditional penitential theme since it does not have to exclude the themes of anticipation and hope. I can see how the latter themes could easily eclipse the notion of repentance or marginalize it at best. For now I think I'll stick with three purple and one pink (which, from my understanding, represents joy). Even here there are choices to be made. Do I light the pink candle on the third or fourth Sunday of Advent? I'm not going to lose sleep over any of this but I do want to understand what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. I want to get as much out of it as I can. I want to grow as a result of my participation and not simply chalk it up on my "things I've done" in my life list.

I think I've found a church that I can go to without taking me away from my regular church that has a traditional liturgical service. I'll keep you posted.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Those are interesting links, Louis. Thanks for posting them.

Advent as a penitential season does not seem to oppose advent as a season of anticipation/joy in my mind (this coming from a protestant who knows very little about it, of course) but rather, the two themes seem to me to be two sides of the same coin.

As one of the links you posted said, "Advent with its preaching of repentance prepare us for the coming of the Christ, not only at Christmas but throughout the year, even to the end of the age."

This new information will indeed alter how I participate in Advent this year, but I don't think it will change things completely, but rather add greater depth to my prayers and meditations leading up to Christmas.