Monday, November 30, 2009

Singing the Blues in Advent

A number of years ago I got a blue Guatemalan stole, and so I've convinced my congregations to switch to blue (the new Advent color). According to the Methodist's worship site -- here is the reasoning for using Blue:

The genesis of the introduction of blue into the liturgical colors comes from continued reflection on the calendar of the Christian year, particularly on the season of Advent. Here is how the reasoning goes: Advent is a season of preparation that anticipates both Bethlehem and the consummation of history in the second coming of Jesus Christ. Since this anticipation is characterized by hope -- in contrast to the repentance characteristic of Lent -- the color for the season should not be purple, with its mood of solemnity and somberness, but blue with its hopefulness. Admittedly, there is a some subjectivity in linking colors with certain moods.
There is precedent for the use of blue during Advent. The Swedish Church and the Mozarabic rite (the rite used in the parts of Spain under Moorish rule from the eighth to the twelfth centuries) used blue.

But, I'm wondering if it might have symbolism beyond the liturgical. Blue is seen here as a symbol of hopefulness, but singing the blues is anything but hopeful.

Peter Gomes writes:

One of my least favorite liturgical seasons is Advent, which comprises the four weeks that follow Thanksgiving and precede Christmas. The conventional wisdom is that Advent is the season of hope and we light our Advent candles, one more on each Sunday, not simply anticipating the light but increasing it. Although Advent is, like Lent, meant to be a season of penitence, hope as a theme has long triumphed over the mood of repentance, and I do not criticize because, to all intents and purposes, it has become a month-long dress rehearsal for Christmas and a commercial phenomenon that is beyond the power of mere Christians to defeat. Years ago, when in October I saw the first Santa Claus in a store window and heard tinny carols in a department store elevator, I knew that Thanksgiving could not be far away and that the battle for Advent had been lost. What I find difficult to take seriously about Advent is the not of false rather than authentic hope that is imposed upon people. (Peter Gomes, Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, Harper One, 2007).
What Gomes puts his finger on is our ambivalence about Advent -- we observe it, but we'd just as soon dispense with it, and get on with Christmas. Advent is a bit like looking at the packages under the tree, wanting to open them, but knowing that to do so would be naughty. So, we sit there and stew. Of course, as soon as we open the presents, we're ready to move on to something else (especially if what is inside those boxes are clothes!)

But, back to the hope and penitence issue. If you read the Advent texts, you'll notice that they have a certain edge. Malachi 3:1-4 -- the text I'm going to preach on Sunday talks about a refiners fire and fuller's soap -- we're supposed to prepare for the coming one by being baptized by fire. And then the following week, I've got John the Baptist talking about the same concept and suggesting that repentance requires some pretty radical actions that lead to justice. Is this a message that has any meaning in the month of December? And in what way is there hope here.

Gomes suggests that maybe the easiest and perhaps most authentic mood of the season is that of Scrooge -- Humbug!!! People greet us with a "Merry Christmas," but we feel anything but merry. We're tired, grumpy, and in this season of seasons, the economy and two wars leave us a bit short of joy or hope.

So, are you singing the blues as we journey toward Christmas?


Country Parson said...

However difficult it is, I am a fan of Advent and treasure its progress toward the coming of Christ in a state of tension between hope and repentance. However, I'm convinced that the colors of Advent are the invention of the candle and vestment industry. Nice colors though and I'm happy to use them.

Danny Bradfield said...

So... blue is the new purple?

Anonymous said...

Having witnessed several pregnancies, Advent reminds me of the final ninth month.
Dreading it, but wanting it to be freaking over already (not me, the mommy).

Christmas used to get down more when my kids were much younger, and my budget much smaller. I always knew the (then) wife was going to miss some January bills. David Mc

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