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From Pink to Blue in Advent Waiting

Bob Bordone, Pastoral Council Member
December 9, 2022


As a kid, Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday in Advent, always confused me. As I was counting down the days to Christmas (and, to be honest, Santa’s visit to my home), it seemed counterintuitive to me that the Sunday marked with special joy and a different rose-colored candle on the Advent wreath was the THIRD Sunday and not the FOURTH!

Surely, it seemed to me, the last Sunday in Advent should be the most joyful?

Why rose-colored on Week 3 and then this strange backsliding to blue (or, back then, purple) on the last Sunday?

It just seemed a bit backward to me.

As I read this Sundays’ readings, however, I noticed a similar contradiction, a perverse kind of confusing “backsliding.”

In the First Reading, Isaiah urges us to:

“Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
with divine recompense
he comes to save you.”

Similarly, in the Psalm response we pray:

“The LORD gives sight to the blind;
the LORD raises up those who were bowed down.
The LORD loves the just;
the LORD protects strangers.” (emphasis added)

These words are not about some kind of Future God, but are spoken in the present tense – the here and the now. The Lord gives, raises, loves, protects. It is happening now, in this moment.

Contrast this with James’ message in the second reading, written after the death and resurrection of Jesus when we might think that divine recompense would surely have been accomplished.

But no!

James is not celebrating the actualized Reign of God on earth. Instead, he urges us to be patient for some future coming of the Lord.

He repeats more than once in the second reading:

“You too must be patient.
Make your hearts firm,
because the coming of the Lord is at hand.”

The message from James is not about the current state of healing, salvation, or glad tidings.  Rather it is a more urgent and dour plea: “Don’t lose hope!”

This feels like going from the joy of Gaudete Sunday back to the interminable waiting for the Incarnation – going backward from the rose-colored joyful candle back to the boring blue or purple in Week 4.

As I look around, I see similar contradictions and backsliding in our world and in our Church.

What does it mean to live in this moment where progress toward peace and justice in many domains seems farther away now than it was just a decade ago?

If God loves the blind, those who are bowed down, the just, and the stranger – then why does such injustice persist, both in our world and in our Church?

Isaiah tells us, “Here is your God” but then, hundreds of years later, James tells us, “Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord.”

One day Pope Francis goes out of his way to visit transgender people or to meet with Fr. James Martin, SJ to encourage his ministry to queer people. And then the next day, the bishops of our own country elect as their new conference President a prelate who publicly blamed the sex abuse crisis on “effeminate gay priests.”

Today’s readings implore us to not be discouraged by contradiction or backsliding such as this. It reminds us that yes – we need conviction and patience.

But it also reminds as that as we wait for the Lord God to come again in glory, it is we who are commissioned to give sight to the blind, to raise up those who are bowed down, to love the just, and to protect the stranger.

This week we celebrate full of joy for a God who comes to save us. But ours is also a fallen world, full of backsliding and contradiction and chaos.

We remember that we will be back to yet another Sunday of blue/purple before God becomes incarnate on Christmas.

But Jesus is coming!

Indeed, God is here insofar as we act now to love the just, the stranger, the bowed down, and the blind.

Rather than let the contradiction in our shared Church and civic life lead us to hopelessness, acrimony, or division, let us heed Isaiah’s call to, “Be strong, fear not!”

My prayer for myself, you, and our Paulist Center Community collectively is that we will have the courage, the grace, the conviction and, yes, the patience, to actualize the words of the Prophet:

That we will, “Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
make firm the knees that are weak,
say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God!”