During the Advent and Christmas seasons, we get busy with Santa Claus and shopping, with parties and programs, with Christmas trees and company, with decorating and dashing to the store, with all the stuff that surrounds this time of year. Sometimes, though, we get so busy with all this “stuff” that we forget the substance of it, the core meaning of Advent and Christmas. Advent is indeed a time of getting ready for Christmas, preparing for the Promised One of God to be reborn in our hearts and in the life of our church as we remember the promises that God gave to his people and how they are fulfilled in the birth of the Babe of Bethlehem. We get ready for the celebration of Christmas.
But, in the Advent season, we also get ready for this Promised One to come again, coming this time not as a baby in a manger, but as a Savior and King who lived, who died, and who lives again that we might be redeemed from sin and death, reconciled to God and to one another, and live with God, both now and forever. We get ready for a time when the Promised One will put all things right, when that which is good and righteous will be exalted and that which is evil will be destroyed. We get ready for the time of peace—real peace, the peace that passes all understanding, the peace that comes from being in a right relationship with God. We get ready for the time when the King of kings and Lord of lords will come in all his glory, to establish his kingdom forever and ever.
To help u in our preparation during Advent, not just for Christmas but also for the Second Coming of Christ, we use the color purple for our paraments, stoles, and three of the four candles on the Advent wreath. Purple is appropriate as the color of royalty, because we are getting ready to celebrate the birth of the King of kings and Lord of lords, as well as preparing for his coming in final victory to bring to its completion the kingdom of God. But purple is also appropriate as the color of penitence—repentance, confession, and forgiveness. In our preparations, we’re asked to take an honest look at our lives, see where we are not all we should be or could be, confess that before God, and look to the Holy Spirit to grow more and more into the image of Jesus and the mind of Christ to which we are all called as Christians, knowing that God has forgiven our sins and cleansed our hearts.
Many churches have started using blue as the color for Advent. Why? The color blue represents hope, expectation, and heaven. Deep blue is the color of the clear, pre-dawn sky, the color of the heavens that cover us in the dark, cold hours before the sun rises in the east. I have a little personal experience with this, but it wasn’t during Advent. The morning after Hurricane Michael came through Bainbridge in October 2018, I was up before dawn—although it was cool outside, there was no air moving inside the house (since the power was out). I grabbed a warm Diet Coke and some cold Pop-Tarts, went out on our patio, and ate my breakfast by the light of an electric lantern. When I finished, I turned off the lantern and just sat there, listening to the birds sing their morning songs. Then I watched the sky as it turned a deep, deep blue, just before the first rays of the sun shone through. I hadn’t had the chance to assess the damage to the house (we didn’t have any); I had no real idea what kind of mess our yard was in (we had several trees down); and I didn’t know what the situation was in the neighborhood (we were blocked by fallen trees and power poles in the streets for most of the morning, until good neighbors with chain saws cut up and moved the trees). But, in seeing that deep blue in the sky before the dawn, I knew in my heart that, no matter what the situation was, everything would be all right. And I really think that experience made it possible for me, at least, to deal with the aftermath of the hurricane with more patience than perhaps I usually would have.
So some churches use deep blue in the Season of Advent to express the expectation and anticipation of the dawn of Christ, not just in preparing to celebrate Christmas but also in looking for his coming again. This is not to say that penitence and spiritual discipline are unimportant—we continue in repentance and in spiritual discipline through our times of personal and corporate devotion. Yet Advent involves more than penitence, and in the use of the color blue there is an emphasis on hope-filled and faithful watching for Jesus, not only in preparing for Christmas but also in looking for his Second Coming. The deep blue of Advent is meant to inspire us in the hope of faith, encouraging us to keep watch for the promised light of Christ to break over the horizon, changing night into day, darkness into light, and filling our lives and our world with a holy and righteous splendor.
No matter what color we use, however, Advent is a time for us to recommit to our faith and to our God who has committed his all for us.
(Credit where credit is due: I’ve borrowed liberally from the website of St. Pail’s Episcopal Church of Ivy, Virginia, which offered the best explanation of the use of blue as the color for Advent!)