Prepare the Way

Little Mary and Joseph, waiting for Baby Jesus

Little Mary and Joseph, preparing a place for Baby Jesus

Christmas is coming, and it is time to prepare the way. There wasn’t any room in the inn. Will there be room in our hearts? When we see the Mother coming down the road, will we welcome her? Will we welcome her in the poor mother, and welcome him in the poor child?

These are the questions that Advent asks, and more and more Christians from outside the liturgical traditions of Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Lutheranism are finding value in the questions and value in this season.

Our family is Catholic, so we’ve always kept Advent. We’ve lit an Advent Wreath week by week every year of our marriage. And now that our daughter Anna is old enough, she reads the prayers each week. We added an Advent Calendar this year as well. Each night, Anna opens another door and reads a short scripture verse about the coming of Christ.

And we’ve added one more tradition to our observance of the season. One that prepares the way and a place in our hearts through helping the poor parents who in Christ’s eyes are his poor parents, and the poor children who in his words are him. We joined a large group of volunteers helping a local business bring Christmas cheer to hundreds of families who can’t afford to buy for their own children.

We bought for three families, with eight kids total ranging from six months to ten years old. Anna helped us pick out clothes and toys, especially for the girls, and in three hours this evening we made an immeasurable difference in eight lives.

And tomorrow, Anna and Julia will help wrap the gifts. I’m staying home for that part. Given my lack of wrapping talent I’m more help not being there.


Advent is Here

Advent candle

Tonight, we’ll resume our yearly Advent tradition and light the first candle on our family Advent Wreath. Anna has asked to help lead the prayers this year, and I think she’s ready.

I will begin as always by saying my favorite Advent candle-lighting prayer, which is also the Collect for the First Sunday of Advent in the Episcopal Church (my former church) …

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Then we’ll light the first candle, and she’ll read the prayer for the First Sunday of Advent …

All-powerful God, increase our strength of will for doing good that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming and call us to his side in the Kingdom of Heaven, where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God forever and ever. Amen.

Some of you may recognize this as the old translation of the Collect for the First Sunday of Advent, that was superseded by an updated translation in 2011. While the new version is more accurate, and at times more eloquent, this is the one from my copy of A Prayer Book of Catholic Devotions that we’ve used since Anna was a baby. It will also be easier for her to read.

Then we’ll read the Gospel for this Sunday, and say the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary to conclude our prayers.

Why Pink?

If you celebrate Advent with an Advent wreath—whether at home, in church, or both—your child is certain to ask you a question today:

“Why pink?”

The origin of the pink candle can be found in the Church’s other purple season: Lent.

Lent is the oldest season in the liturgical calendar. It began as a preparatory fast for catechumens (converts to Christianity) prior to Easter baptisms. As other feasts joined Easter in the calendar, additional preparatory fasts were established through common practice. One of these was the Nativity Fast, a forty day period proceeding Christmas that paralleled the forty days of Lent.

The Nativity Fast is still part of the eastern liturgical calendar followed by the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches. But in the west, the fast lessened in both length and severity over time, evolving into the four-week season of Advent that we know today.

So why the pink candle? Bear with me just a bit longer.

The fourth Sunday of Lent—Laerte Sunday—falls around the middle of Lent, and is traditionally a day in which the penitential nature of the season is lightened a bit. To signify this lightening, the clergy wore rose (or pink) vestments on that day. The Third Sunday of Advent—Gaudete Sunday—falls at a similar midpoint, and before long clergy wore rose on that day too. The color fits the theme of the day (“Rejoice!”), and, besides, why buy a nice set of vestments only to wear them once a year?

The Advent wreath, meanwhile, grew out of a Germanic tradition. The color of the candles weren’t fixed, but over time became purple to match the color of the season. Since the liturgical color in the churches changed to rose on Gaudete Sunday, it follows that the third candle would become pink as well.

That’s the grown-up answer, but try telling that story to your kids and they’ll fall asleep. So here’s the kids’ version:

“We’re happy that Christmas is less than two weeks away and the pink candle symbolizes that joy.”

But kids always have more questions:

“Then why isn’t the fourth candle pink too? Won’t we be happier next week when Christmas is even closer?”

At this point, revert to the grown-up answer. Your child will lose interest by the end of the first paragraph and you wont have to finish.

And that is a reason to “rejoice!”

December 16

And a bonus link for yesterday:

December 15

 Advent calendar graphics by Oh My Gluestick. They are intended for personal use only and may not be used commercially.