But when I got to this part of the story for my care receiver, something caused me to substitute hope instead of joy for what the pink candle symbolizes. It wasn’t planned, but in that moment, it was intentional.
I am both honored and blessed to be a member of the lay Caring Ministry team at our church, First United Methodist in Duncanville, Texas. As it turns out, I frequently teach Adult Sunday School lessons too and recently taught the first of a five part Advent Study. Advent, if you don’t already know, is the first holy season of the Christian year, the four weeks preceding Christmas Day. For the lesson, I had used Reverend Adam Hamilton’s book, “Not a Silent Night,” as a guide.
Visiting a fellow church member who is in a rehabilitation center, I had occasion to reflect upon and to share again part of what I had taught in Sunday School. The man I was visiting, by the way, knows that he will never fully recover from his illness – that his remaining days are few.
I asked my care receiver, a man somewhat older than myself, his wife and his sister who were also present, whether they knew the significance of the traditional Advent wreath. The sister answered first, “Well, it has four candles on a bed of greens – no, five,” she said, “counting the big candle in the center. One is lit each Sunday before Christmas, when the big white one in the center, the Christ Candle, is lit.”
“Yes,” I said, “Very good. But what do the colors of the candles represent, why is one of them pink?” — Silence. The three seemed to be searching their memories. Then the man’s wife said, “Oh, dear. I know I’ve heard this before – maybe many times.”
When I was preparing for my Sunday School lesson, I explained, I was sure that I had heard about it too. But I just couldn’t recall. So I did some research. The Advent wreath, I learned, was first used as a Christian devotion in the Middle Ages. Its design came from the customs of pre-Christian Germanic and Scandinavian cultures. Candles and greenery are symbols for light and life during winter. The wreath is a circle of evergreen boughs symbolizing renewal. The candles, usually three purple but sometimes blue, one pink or rose, and one white, symbolize the light of Christ coming into the world. The candle colors are derived from the traditional liturgical colors, purple for royalty and white for Christ’s purity. But why the one pink one?
My research revealed something that I’m sure I had never heard about before. Originally, long before Advent was added to the Christian calendar, there was only one holy season: Lent. But it wasn’t celebrated as it is now with prayer, introspection and fasting for forty days, I explained. Originally, the faithful were expected to fast for a full seven weeks! This surprised everyone.
Although there are different accounts according to different traditions that explain just how this came about, the one I like is this: After a time, realizing that seven weeks of fasting was just too much to expect of people, church leaders took pity on their flocks. They designated the third week of Lent to be a week of joy and hope. The fasting was suspended for this one week of Lent and the Pope began a tradition of incorporating a pink rose, a symbol for joy, awarding it to someone when saying mass. Other church leaders began wearing pink vestments during this special time.
When Advent was later added to the Christian calendar and Advent wreaths became part of the celebration of mass during this special time of year, the tradition of the third week being devoted to joy was carried over from the ancient Lenten tradition. And that is why the candle lit on the third week of Advent is pink in color. But when I got to this part of the story for my care receiver, something caused me to substitute hope instead of joy for what the pink candle symbolizes. It wasn’t planned, but in that moment, it was intentional. Knowing that my care receiver needed to hear about hope more than joy, I felt inspired to modify the story just this little bit. I choose to believe that the inspiration I felt was from the Holy Spirit.
Later, after sharing communion elements that had previously been consecrated by our pastor, we all held hands and prayed. Closing with Amen and opening my eyes, I knew that my care receiver had heard exactly what he had needed to hear. Though his eyes were filled with tears, his face glowed with the hope he now felt.
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