“Why is one of the Advent candles pink?” Such was the question posed by a very young lady after one of the worship services last Sunday. It was the third Sunday of Advent. Following is the answer to that question. You know you wanted to ask but you were just too embarrassed to admit you didn’t know. Or maybe you thought it was too trivial a question to bother anyone with. But the answer is quite interesting. It’s a long answer because I wanted to be thorough. Honestly the more I got into it the more interested I became. The following anticipates a lot of other questions in relation to the Advent wreath and answers them as well because after all you won’t find any verse in the Bible that explains it.
It all began somewhere in Europe a very long time ago. Most people think it was sometime during the 4th century, so we’re talking 300s here, long before it was easy to make books, run off copies, or use a projector to flash words up on the walls. In fact it would have been a time when many people never even learned to read and thus a bunch of relatively smart Christians said, “Hey…let’s use colors when we worship God! It will help people remember and understand what we are talking about.” They began with the weeks leading up to Easter, a season they named Lent. What color could they associate with a season dedicated to the repentance of sin? Purple! They chose purple because it is the color of royalty. What better color to remind repentant Christians that Jesus is their compassionate and gracious king?
Later on Advent came into existence for similar reasons as Lent. Advent, as you may already know, is deemed a season of preparation, waiting, and repentance leading up to the big event, Christmas. Naturally purple was the perfect color for that season as well. However some churches decided that during Advent they would use blue, another royal color, just to distinguish this season from Lent. That is why the first, second, and fourth weeks of Advent are marked by purple candles, or in some churches blue candles.
But that still does not explain that crazy pink candle that I was quizzed about last Sunday. What is that all about? Well, the answer is actually quite simple. The third week of Advent is marked by a pink candle in order to signal a shift in focus from solemn repentance to eager anticipation of the joyous celebration just around the corner. No, really. Pink literally means Christmas is almost here and it’s going to be great! Not to be outdone by purple, pink also has its day on the fourth Sunday of Lent. Few of us know that though because, well…we don’t use candles during Lent. And unless they are uber-serious about tradition most Protestant ministers (I can’t really speak for our Catholic friends) are apparently insecure about wearing pink while they preach.
That leaves one fairly obvious candle in the center of this three fourths purple or maybe blue and one quarter pink ring of flame with which both robed ministers and choir members all take their chances on Christmas Eve. Of course I am referring to the white Christ candle which, as the name implies marks the birth of the Savior. White was an obvious choice, symbolizing the spotless, sinless nature of the Son of God. Jesus was born in order to redeem us from all that sin and strife we repented of during the purple, blue, and pink weeks…not to mention all the green weeks in between. Green is for growth and life.
Some people are troubled by the fact that so much attention and detail goes into a cycle of seasons and colors that is never mentioned anywhere in Scripture. I used to be one of them. But it’s called liturgy. Liturgy is not anything we worship and hopefully it is never something we get so hung up on that we turn it into an absolute necessity. It is something meant as an aid to worship and insofar as it goes it is helpful. Think about it. This Christmas Eve millions upon millions of people will go to churches around the world. Some will be Christians who have traveled hundreds of miles to be with family and thus find themselves in an unfamiliar place. Others will have stumbled into a sanctuary for the first time in years. But no matter whether it’s been a thousand miles or twenty-five years, or in some cases both, those candles in the wreath at the front will be essentially the same and will represent exactly the same things. They have been there since somewhere in the middle of the 4th century.
That’s the point. Regardless of how frustrating your gift shopping proves to be, one wreath fits all every year. No matter how many extension cords, projectors, guitars, trees, choirs, and whatever other stuff might be thrown in, it’s Christmas. So wherever you may worship on Christmas Eve look for the candles and be reminded that they are there in anticipation and celebration of the birth of Christ.
For more information than you ever cared to know about Advent wreaths and colors you could visit www.cresourcei.org/cyadvent.html. I did. You could probably do worse than to snoop around Wikipedia too!