Tomorrow morning the church will mark the third Sunday of Advent, the Sunday which traditionally focuses on the idea of “joy”. Last year at this time, that was a hard sell for many of us. A year ago today, just before that joyful Sunday, we all learned about a place called Sandy Hook Elementary School. And for those of us preparing for worship, joy felt more than just unlikely. It felt inappropriate.
If your church has an Advent wreath you might notice that this is the Sunday when a pink, and not a purple, candle is lit. Purple is the color of penitence. It’s one that calls our hearts to reflect on what needs to change both in ourselves, and in the world. And as people and as a society, we needed to do some of that last year.
But the story goes that in the midst of the dark winters and more reflective Advents of years past, churches thought that about now people needed a little glimpse of what was coming. And so they made the third candle pink, which is supposed to be sort of a mix between the purple of Advent and the white of the Christ candle that we light on Christmas eve.
And they called this Sunday “Gaudette Sunday” which means “rejoice”. And so, we lit the candle on that morning last year, not because we were rejoicing, but because just as the white mixes with the purple and transforms it, we are waiting for Christ’s light to break into the pain and violence of our world and bring the joy that feels so elusive.
We stood, and we still stand, here at the junction of where pain and hope meet, and we look for something better. We long for joy. And we sing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”, o come God, and be with us. We know you are not done with us yet. You can’t be if we are still doing this to each other.
The day after the Sandy Hook shootings, at sundown, we rang the bells of this church once for each life that had been lost. The idea was that as the light went out of the world, we would sound a reminder that God’s love never does.
When I let people know that we were going to do it, I didn’t realize that the kids would be at the church rehearsing their Christmas pageant at the same time. But the parents decided it was appropriate to do it anyway, and even better, to let the kids help. And so that day a group of shepherds in bathrobes and angels with homemade wings filed out into the narthex here, and took turns holding onto the rope of a bell heavy enough to pull them off the ground every time we pulled. Again and again they held on and flew up and down.
I’m not sure how many times the bell actually was rung. Once we got started, the kids kept wanting another turn. And they were so filled with joy, and so filled with life, that as long as the kids wanted to do it, it felt right to let them. For the first time in many hours I saw joy. And it was, most fittingly, on the faces of children. It was a reminder to me that the world can do its worst, but in the end joy can never be destroyed. It always finds a way to return.
Question: How do we acknowledge the truth of a broken world, yet still proclaim joy?
Prayer: Merciful God, on this day when we remember and mourn, we ask your blessing on Newtown, Connecticut. Comfort those who mourn. Challenge those who would forget. Inspire those who would act. And even in the darkest hours, may we see your light creeping in. Amen.