You may listen to Mother Erika's sermon here.
How do you make something pink? Well, it depends on what the “something” is, of course, but the easiest way to make pink is to start with something white and add in a little red. For example, you can start with a palate of white oil paints and swirl in just the tiniest crimson drop. You can shine a red stage light overtop of a white one. You can squeeze one pinch of red food coloring into cream cheese frosting. You can place a fresh, white carnation into a vase filled with red-tinted water. And there are other ways to make pink. You can add more water to wash out a red watercolor. You can leave your favorite red t-shirt in the wash with your white socks. You can walk your own little nose outside on a cold day, or press and pinch your lips together like before a ball in a Jane Austin novel. You can suck on a candy cane until all of the stripes run together, or you can tell your new love how beautiful she looks in the candlelight and watch her cheeks begin to glow.
But how do you make a Sunday pink? Well, you start by taking out these stunningly beautiful vestments. Then you arrange beautiful pink roses and light the third candle in the Advent wreath. And you might imagine that all of this pink comes from starting with some white and adding a bit of red to it – taking the white of the resurrection that we celebrate each week on this, the Lord’s Day, and mixing in a splash of Holy Spirit red, a drop of that “Spirit of the Lord” from today’s lesson from Isaiah. But the more proper, liturgically correct way to think about the color of this Sunday is that we start with the deep violet of Advent and add in a drop of incarnation white, one pure white dewdrop of Christmas morning, to create the color rose.
The real question, though, is not how you make a Sunday pink – or rose – but why you make a Sunday pink. What is the purpose of all this rose on this third Sunday of Advent? Many of you will know that the name “Gaudete” Sunday comes from the first word of the ancient Introit appointed for today: Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete, or, “Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say, Rejoice!” This text from Paul’s letter to the Philippians has served as the opening scripture for this service for centuries, and it reminds us, right at the midpoint of this season, of the Advent we are preparing for – the Advent of the light of the world, the coming of the Word made flesh, God incarnate, Jesus Christ. And why would we not rejoice in that happy reminder? “For Christ is coming, is coming soon, and night shall be no more. We’ll need no light, nor lamp, nor sun, for Christ will be our all.” In the middle of this Advent season of waiting, preparation, waiting, looking, watching, and again I say waiting, this Rose Sunday reminds us to wait with a smile on our lips and a song in our heart. Like its twin in Lent called Laetare Sunday, Gaudete Sunday in Advent reminds us not to let the burden of heavy violet become so great that we cannot still dance. Gaudete Sunday opens a door in this season of solemn preparation and lets a fresh breeze blow through, warmed by the morning sun and sweetened by the scent with roses.
But here we must be careful – because while Gaudete Sunday is about the easing of the violet Advent solemnity, it is not necessarily easy. The rejoicing of this day is not simple. We do not rejoice this day because everything is fine and life is perfect – we rejoice because God tells us to. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” This is God’s will for you, says the apostle Paul – to rejoice all the time, to pray all the time, and to give thanks all the time. But there is nothing easy about this. How can we rejoice all the time? How can we possibly rejoice when we hear about entire populations decimated by famine in Africa? How can we rejoice when Syrians are killed for speaking their minds and fighting for freedom? How can we rejoice when a police officer is killed and an entire college campus held hostage by one disturbed man with a gun? How can we rejoice to hear tale after tale of the sexual abuse of children, of the bullying and persecution of gays and lesbians, of the rising suffering of the poor in this country? How can we rejoice when we are newly diagnosed or dying, when we have sinned greatly and caused the one we love terrible pain, or when the sound of sleighbells and the smell of gingerbread this time of year remind us that we are all alone? How can we rejoice in the face of all of the oppressed, the brokenhearted, the captives and prisoners and those who mourn? Rejoice always? Bah, humbug.
But I have met someone who does rejoice always. When I met Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and heard him speak, I saw a man filled with a kind of joy unlike any I have ever seen. Now I cannot say for certain how he got to be that way, but my suspicion is this: that Desmond Tutu understands that these three imperatives of Paul must go together – rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all things. These three commands support each other – take out one piece and the whole tower falls. I have only met Desmond Tutu twice in my life – once at Christ Church, Alexandria, and once at Virginia Seminary. He came to Christ Church to attend a reception for the clergy resident program of which I was a part, which just happened to be on my first day on the job – wow! But what I remember more than anything else about that day was that upon arriving at Christ Church that afternoon, Archbishop Tutu immediately went into the church to pray. He stayed in a pew for hours that afternoon, kneeling, in T.S. Eliot’s words, “where prayer had been valid” for hundreds of years. It was only when the Archbishop was finished with his prayers that he came in for the reception. Pray without ceasing.
It is this foundation of prayer, this running dialogue with God, that allows Desmond Tutu to live into the other two imperatives. Because, although he is a man who has seen suffering like most of us will never see, Desmond Tutu is also a man who almost literally glows with gratitude. When I saw him speak at the seminary, he practically danced around in his 75-year-old bones as he spoke to us of the love of God. He cupped his hands like this and said something like: “What a wonder to think that God is holding you in his hands right now…just like this…and that God chooses to breathe life into you at every moment.” And then he blew into his hands, and looked up at us, his eyes twinkling. “Imagine!” he said, “If he were to stop – poof! – we would be gone. But he doesn’t stop – he keeps breathing into us every second of every day.” And he stood before us, grinning like a fool and bouncing up and down like a child on Christmas morning. Give thanks for all things, starting with the air you breathe, and rejoice.
Archbishop Tutu’s life, I think, also shows us how not to live out Paul’s imperatives. We are not to rejoice always by just pretending everything is okay, by imagining that there is no violet in the world and looking only for the roses. We are not to rejoice because we have blinders on, just as we are not to give thanks just because things could be worse. This is certainly not how Desmond Tutu has lived his life, nor is it how Paul lived his. Both men saw true evil in the world, experienced real pain and persecution, and yet were able to rejoice and give thanks anyway. Because of their practice of prayer, because of their constant conversation with God, they learned how to be grateful for the way God transformed their pain, used the difficult things in life to draw them in closer. And that gave them the strength to transform the world.
Our practice of daily prayer accomplishes the same thing – in our prayer, we begin to be able to rejoice in all things because we can know God’s grace and can see God’s blessings poured out over all things. So, as difficult as it is, we can give thanks, say, for an illness – not because it could be worse but isn’t, but because it reminds us of our dependence on God alone, softens our hearts, helps us to hold onto this life loosely and to keep our eyes fixed on the things eternal. In the same way our prayer gives us the strength to rejoice in the face of bigotry, violence, hatred, and crushing poverty because we see the bigotry, violence, hatred, and poverty and choose to do something about them. We can greatly rejoice in the LORD, for he has clothed us with the garments of salvation and the robes of righteousness; anointed us to bring good news, to bind up, to proclaim liberty to captives of all kinds. Rejoice, pray, give thanks, because the light has come, is come, and will come again, and in that light God has sent us to transform the world. This is not easy. It is hard work. It requires discipline, practice, and preparation. Rose Sunday is as demanding a task as the rest of violet Advent. But it is also as much of a gift as the rest of violet Advent; it is what God desires of us, it is the work that God sanctifies in us. So go – rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks for all things. Get to work being joyful – put on your pink.
Preached by Mother Erika Takacs
11 December 2011
St. Mark's Church, Philadelphia