An angry Melanchthon and Luther describing John the Baptist's preaching as making them sinners. All that and we get to be reminded that we're going to wither and fade. Is this good news? Maybe, because we get some of that conversation, too!
And the yearly TheoThorough about the pink candle, which isn't pink.
A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
-- Isaiah 40:6-7
Verses 6 and 7 are quoted n Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 4: Justification (AP 4.180ish, sorry, this in one of the heavily edited sections). Melanchthon is working through scriptural passages that show we cannot stand before God's judgment, and these two verses are one of those examples.
The last half of verse 6 is quoted a little later in the Apology, in Article 23: The Marriage of Priests (AP 23.70) where Melanchthon goes off on those who claim that celibacy is required for all priests and how they will be accountable to God for all the unjust cruelty that has resulted. Have you ever wondered if Melanchthon got angry? Read this paragraph where he ends by telling those in authority that they are like grass, with with the constancy of a field flower.
See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
-- Isaiah 40:10
Verse 10 is cited in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 5: Law and Gospel (SD 5.23) as a way of unpacking what it means that Abraham's seed, David's son will restore the kingdom. For the Reformers after Luther's death, this is an example of good news in the Hebrew scriptures.
2 Peter 3:8-15a
The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.
-- 2 Peter 3:9
Verse 9 is cited four times in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 11: Election. First, it is quoted (SD 11.28) to show along with several other passages that God wants everyone to hear the proclamation of the gospel. Then, it is cited (SD 11.32) as an example of God's grace. Next, it is quoted (SD 11.81) as part of the argument showing that God does not want anyone to sin and is not the cause of sin, since God wants all to repent. Finally, it is cited through editorial insert (SD 11.84) to answer the question of why Pharaoh had a hardened heart. It was not God's desire.
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God... John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
-- Mark 1:1, 4
Verses 1 and 4 are quoted in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 5: Law and Gospel (SD 5.4) as an example of the word "gospel" being used in the Bible to refer to the fullness of the proclamation in both God's law and God's grace. This rests within the larger conversation of what the word "gospel" means both in the Bible and in Luther's writing. After Luther's death, there was some confusion. They decided that the word "gospel" can be primarily used in one of two ways. First, "gospel" might mean, like it does here, the full teaching about God's will as made known to us in Jesus, which includes law and good news. This is the general use of gospel. Second, "gospel" might mean quite particularly the proclamation of God's forgiveness of our sins, being entirely free of law. This is the strict use of gospel.
... the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight...’”
-- Mark 1:3
Verse 3 is cited in a footnote to Smalcald Articles, Part 3, Article 3: Concerning Repentance (SA 3.3.4, n. 90) showing that John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for Jesus. John makes the paths for Jesus straight by preaching "to convict them all and turn them into sinners, so that they would know how they stood before God and would recognize themselves as lost people" (SA 3.3.4). Did you catch that? John's preaching turned people into sinners.
There is a point in being reminded that one of the roles of preaching the gospel in the general sense is to turn people into sinners so that when they hear the gospel in the strict sense they will experience it as good news. There is deep wisdom here. Until we admit we are sinners, why do we need to hear about God's forgiveness of our sin? Until we admit we are sick, why would we seek out a doctor? Unless we admit there is a problem, why would we try and change?
But we cannot just leave people wallowing in their own sinfulness. Proclaiming only God's law to turn people into sinners and then leave them there is in no way gospel. This is the balance of proclaiming the good new of God in Christ to all people through word and deed: helping people to see their own sin and also announcing God's forgiveness as gospel for them in their sin.
But there are still some questions to ponder with these readings:
- Is our own mortality good news or bad news?
- Do reminders of our mortality help us see our sin or shut us down in fear?
- When helping people see their need for forgiveness, how do we keep the universal nature of the gospel prominent for both we who are procaliming and those who will recieve?
I probably should have posted this last week, but here's the reminder:
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 anti-authoritarian 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 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 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 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.
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!)