Advent 3 A

On the reality of civil unrest when proclaiming the gospel and why pink is really rose.

Only one verse this week, but it taps into an issue that is very much alive today. Also, I introduce a new occasional segment "TheoThorough" wherein I'll go into depth on topics of liturgical interest. This time: the Advent Wreath and the pink candle!

Gospel Reading — Matthew 11:2-11

Verse 6 is quoted and cited through editorial insert in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 28: Ecclesiastical Power (AP 28.24, quarto) as Melanchthon is bringing the Apology to a close. In this section, he is responding to charges of civil unrest caused by Luther's teachings—think of the Peasants' Revolt. Melanchthon seeks to distance the teachings of the Lutheran Reformation from the civil unrest while also showing that those following Luther were also impacted by the civil unrest.

"[Jesus said,] 'And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.'"

- Matthew 11:6 (NRSV)

As Melanchthon closes out this line of thought, he quotes verse 6 to show that Satan tries to keep people from hearing the gospel because "it is easier for discriminating people to ignore personal dangers than these scandals of public commotions" (AP 28.24). It is simpler to maintain an appearance of public decency in order to avoid civil unrest, but at the cost, Melanchthon says, of the gospel and the Word of God.

TheoThru

There is a challenge in this citation in our world today. We all want to be on the right side of history, which often leads to various kinds of civil unrest. But we must be cautious in instigating civil unrest as Christians, taking significant time to make sure that what we're working for the gospel and not just our own self-righteousness looking to enforce itself on others.

I should note that there is a difference between citizens instigating civil unrest and Christians instigating civil unrest. These are not unrelated, but neither are they entirely the same. It behooves us to be clear about this so as to not misappropriate the gospel.

That being said, when the proclamation and work of the gospel is met with charges of instigating civil unrest, Christians are called to continue the proclamation and work of the gospel rather than succumb to social pressure to maintain the status quo.

  • How do we faithfully discern the distinction between our own social action and the gospel?
  • How do we faithfully discern the connection between our own social action and the gospel?
  • How do we preach the gospel in such a way that those listening are moved to action in a way that others can see and hear the reign of God at work?

TheoThorough: The Pink Candle

First off, liturgically speaking, it's not pink, it's rose. We'll get into why that matters in a bit.

Second, I know that local tradition is unlikely to change. What this TheoTorough seeks to achieve is being informed about different traditions and ways of using the Advent Wreath to mark our time until Christmas. In this way, you will have some understanding of why your congregation is "breaking the rules." (What I'm describing is general and ecumenical liturgical practices, not rules. But if you feel the need to let out your antiauthoritarian streak, feel free to think of them as rules.)

The Three Ways

There are three general practices regarding the lighting of the rose candle: light it on the Third Sunday of Advent, light it on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and don't have a rose candle. 

If your Advent Wreath does not have a rose candle, good on ya'. Too much congregational concern, if not outright unrest, has been caused by the rose candle. Good job in avoiding all of it!

So why is it rose and not pink? Simply, pink is not a liturgical color. Rose is.

So what does this tell us about the rose candle? Quite a bit, actually.

There's Something About Mary

Rose is the liturgical color for Mary, the Mother of Our Lord. Therefore, the rose candle is lit on the Sunday of Advent when we remember Mary with the Magnificat [Luke 1:46-55]. This, however, is where the confusion arises. The Revised Common Lectionary recognizes all three major ways of using the Magnificat during the Sundays of Advent, each during a different cycle of the lectionary. I have to take them a bit out of order for it to make sense.

Cycle A

Cycle A recognizes the tradition of not having a rose candle nor using the Magnificat. You read that right. Cycle A, which uses readings from Matthew, looks to Jospeh rather than Mary. This cycle doesn't have a place for doing the Magnificat in the primary texts of Advent.

The Magnificat is offered up for Advent 3 A as an alternate psalm for those who want the Magnificat during Advent (or those who have a rose candle). If you have a rose candle, light it on the Third Sunday of Advent during Cycle A.

Cycle C

Cycle C recognizes the tradition of using the Magnificat for the Fourth Sunday of Advent. The primary psalm offered up is the Magnificat, but if read as part of the gospel reading, which is possible, there is an alternative psalm given.

Advent 3 C does not have any primary or alternate readings of the Magnificat.

With the Lucan focus, the build up to Mary on the Sunday before Christmas shapes all of the Advent readings. So during Cycle C, the rose candle is lit on the Fourth Sunday of Advent.

Cycle B

Cycle B is confused. Or the year of options, however you want to think about it. I guess it makes some sense, what with the Advent readings coming from Mark, Luke, and John, thus lacking any kind of consistency or even a single author's narrative idea.

For Cycle B, the Magnificat may be used on either the Third or Fourth Sunday of Advent. Yup, either one. Advent 3 B has the Magnificat as the alternate psalm while Advent 4 B has the Magnificat as the primary psalm. The preference seems to be for the Fourth Sunday. Either way, the rose candle is lit on either the Third or Four Sunday of Advent.

Informed Decision-Making

If you don't have a rose candle, you can actually select the readings so that the Magnificat is never encountered during the Sundays of Advent. I don't know that I recommend this, but it is possible.

If you do have a rose candle, light it on the Sunday of Advent when you do the Magnificat. If the congregation's practice is lighting it on Advent 3, that can be easily accommodated in all of the cycles. If the congregation's practice is lighting it on Advent 4, then Cycle A is not your friend. If the congregation doesn't have or remember a practice, hopefully this TheoThorough will help in making a decision. (Remember that not having a rose candle is an option!)