Thoughts on the Candle of Joy
Have you ever wondered why the third candle in the advent wreath is pink? Why pink? Why the third Sunday? The short answer is joy, but the long answer is fascinating, and it has something to do with Lent, and something to do with an early Gnostic movement that dismissed Jesus as a real human person.
In the earliest centuries of the Church, the most important date on the calendar was Easter, the day the Lord rose from the dead. Forty days, in honor of Jesus’ forty days in the desert, were set aside to fast pray as Jesus did, and to do something to show repentance of sin, in preparation for that glorious day when Christ’s victory over sin and death is commemorated.
Somewhere around the second century, some Christians began to celebrate Jesus’ birth as well, because Jesus was a real person, who had really been born, lived, died and was bodily resurrected. But no one really knew exactly when Jesus had been born.
In the meantime, December 25 was already a huge holy day that had been celebrated for thousands of years, when people feasted and exchanged gifts in honor of the winter solstice, celebrating the night the Great Mother Goddess gives birth to the baby Sun God. Variations of this myth are found throughout the world, including Egypt, India, the Middle East, lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, the Celtic lands in Europe, Scandinavia, and in northern Africa.
Early Christians began to give this festival a new meaning—to celebrate the birth of the Son of God ‘the unconquered Son’ and the ‘Son of Righteousness,’ the true fulfillment of all these other stories.
By the early fifth century, Advent services started showing up as a counterpart to Lent and lasted about forty days. Advent, as with Lent, was the season where Christians were to wait in the “darkness” of sin with hopeful expectation for promised redemption, just as the whole world waited expectantly for the birth of Messiah—remember the magi from the east.