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ADVENTures Before Christmas, Week 3

Each week of Advent has a number of symbolisms, and the following table will be filled as the weeks progress.

Journey on a Donkey
Isaiah/OT Prophets
John the Baptist

In the first week, we looked at suffering/penitence and its relationship to expectation and hope. The second week looked at how the solid promises of God through Christ gave peace even in the midst of trials and suffering. Historically, for reasons given below, the third week of Advent turned a corner into increasing joy and eager anticipation as the Day of Christ drew nearer. For some reason, the third week has an association with the Magi that visited gifts upon the Christ child, likely several weeks or more after Christmas, traditionally on January 6, Epiphany. Thus, today, I want to talk of gifts.

In some cultures, and in some literature, the tradition is that on one’s birthday, gifts are given by the ‘birthday boy’ to others rather than from others to the honoree as we typically do. At Christmas, we exchange gifts, and there is nothing wrong with that. Jesus gave us Himself, and the Magi gave Him spices and cash. We got the better end of the deal.

Yet, is a gift exchange the only option? (This is what we educators call a leading rhetorical question.) Of course not. We tend to focus on the gifts of the Magi, and less on the gift of Christ. We seek an even exchange or else an attempt to describe with things the depth of love and affection for one another, which is, again, not wrong, in and of itself.

However, the gift Christ gave was not only a lavishment of His love upon us, it was with the 1) full knowledge we cannot offer anything comparable in exchange, and 2) His gift was not a thing, it was Himself.

I recommend the following blog posts I’ve come across thanks to friends. The first, “The Christmas Conundrum” discusses one family’s struggle with revamping their entire view of Christmas, offering humourous, blunt, practical ways to approach  changing Christmas back into a celebration of Jesus’ example of ministry and honoring Him above (or away from) the glare of Black Friday consumerism. The second, “When Christmas Gets Radical: Whose Birthday Is It Really?” had its origins ten years ago, when the author’s then five year old son asked as she left his room for the night, “What does Jesus get for His birthday?” That simple question riveted the author, and transformed their entire family’s view of the season.

In today’s economy, now is the perfect time to evaluate what we do with our resources in lavishing honor and love to those dear to us. It is said, ‘discipleship occurs in the context of ministry.’ Can families come together in service to others using those resources to bless others struggling to survive? Will the treasure of doing so overfill hearts rather than closet space?

Personally, I am in the middle of reevaluating my perspectives on the topic. One thing I do have figured out is that if I find something perfect for someone, and buy it as a Christmas present for them, I do not sin. If I choose to support a good work in that person’s name, I do not sin. Even better than simply not sinning, is that in either case, as long as the motivation of my heart is to honor the recipient, and to honor Christ more than them, it is a real blessing to all, and a source of lasting joy, proclaiming their preciousness (Christ and the recipient) in my sight, fulfilling both the attitude and action of Advent’s third week.

In some locations, the third candle in the Advent wreath is pink, in others the fourth candle is pink; in still others, all four candles are purple. The purple candles are lit during Advent, when the liturgical color is purple, and the white candle is lit on Christmas Eve (that is, after sundown), when the liturgical color is white. So that explains the colors of the purple and white candles—they just match the liturgical decor. But what about the pink candle, if there is one?

The pink candle is becoming more and more popular, but it has a strange origin. Long ago, the pope had the custom of giving someone a rose on the fourth Sunday in Lent. This led the Roman Catholic clergy to wear rose-colored vestments on that Sunday. The effect was to give some relief the solemnity of Lent, so this was a very popular custom. Originally—before shopping malls—Advent was a solemn fast in preparation for Christmas, so the custom was extended to the third Sunday in Advent to liven it up a little bit, too. Somewhere in there the third candle of the Advent wreath turned pink. Meanwhile, Advent is no longer solemn and the pope no longer has the custom of giving out roses. It is kind of odd to think that a Methodist or Baptist or….would put a pink candle in a Lutheran Advent wreath because the pope used to have the custom of giving out roses, but sometimes we’re a little more ecumenical than we realize!

On the third Sunday in Advent
             Light three purple candles (or two purple and one pink)
             Read Isaiah 35:10
             Pray something like this:
Lord God, we light this candle to thank you for your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who brings us great joy. We who have walked in the shadow of the valley of death have found life in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We give you thanks and praise in Jesus' name, because he lives and reigns with you in your glory, and in the unity of the Holy Spirit, Amen.


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