Sunday, December 14, 2008

Guadete Sunday 2008

Gaudete Sunday takes its name from the first word of the Latin entrance chant of the Mass: gaudete, meaning rejoice.

Today is also sometimes called "pink Sunday" because the priest may wear pink, or more properly, rose vestments.

Not being fond of pink, the sudden blossoming of color in our chapel put me to thinking. Our Advent wreath is rather a sober affair: a bronze ring, time-darkened to the point where the colored enamelwork has become invisible, hung by black chains from a tall, graceful black tripod. The traditional candles--three purple, one pink--stand out against this darkness, but they too are muted in color. Beneath it, deft hands have planted a gaudete garden: a froth of carnations, white, pale pink, dark rose, against a dense bush of juniper top a pink-wrapped pot set amid folds of medium-rose cloth. Outside the windows, the heavy gray clouds of winter storm are edged in radiant rose by a sun not yet risen.

Rose, I suddenly realized, is a lightening of the red strands that, woven with blue, form the traditional Advent color of purple. Rose offers a hint of light in a season of gathering darkness. Rose makes a promise: the night will end, the day will break, the Sun of Justice will arise out of the Christmas midnight to come. Wait. Hope. These darkening days are not the end of the story.

That's a promise we can use these days. Not only are the days around us growing shorter and the nights longer, but the hope of solstice is waning amid the fears spawned by growing violence and a failing economy. The specter of unemployment sits at many a family table. For the fifth year in a row, there are empty places at those same tables, marking the absence of family members sent off to war. A new government waits in the wings, promising change--but what changes will it bring? What changes can it bring? Will they really better our lot? Will they come in time to save us?

The Advent prophet Isaiah also acclaimed a new government waiting in the wings, a government promising change:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government will be upon his shoulder,
and his name will be called
"Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
Isaiah 9:6

That is the government whose coming we really await, the rule for which we really hope, the dawn for which we really long. In fact, it came a long time ago, an inauspicious solstice on a night in Bethlehem, very little noticed at the time. That small dawn, which we will celebrate again this Christmas, is still growing toward the fullness of the promised day we yearn for. The dark clouds still obscure its brightness as they roll in and out, sometimes thinning to wisps, sometimes thickening again to smothering blankets of fog.

Nor are we mere hapless observers of the dramas of our skies. Sometimes the clouds above us are smoke from our own fires, smog from our own freeways, choking fogs from our own battlefields. We can't make the waited sun rise, nor can we prevent it. But we can and do clear the way for the light or force it into hiding behind the oil residue from our ego-driven works of darkness, as the Bible often names them. We, who live at the heart of the rising Sun, are called to light up the world with its blaze, said Jesus. He said that no one lights a lamp and puts it under a bushel basket. He lights the lamps--whatever goodness burns in us--but we can be expert basket weavers, covering it up and even smothering it to ashes because fire does burn what holds it.

I personally would be just as happy to see the pink come and go on this one Sunday of the year. To be part of the work of lightening the heavy purple of the gathering night every day is another matter entirely. However, I recognize, at least some of the time, if I clamp down the bushel basket to hide me safely, I too will have to live in the resulting darkness. And so must we all, if we refuse to burn with the light of Christ, the dawn that edges our night with reflected fire.

©2008 Abbey of St. Walburga

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