Purple and blue
In households throughout the country, children have been taking part in the annual ritual of early December. They’re writing Christmas lists, full of the toys or books, clothes or gadgets they hope to receive under their tree. While they are writing, my own prayers this week have felt a little bit like a Christmas list.
While my childhood list included a Cabbage Patch Kid and some Guess jeans, my list now is comprised of the kinds of things that I can’t buy, not even from the enormous JCPenney catalog of my youth. They’re much deeper longings. Peace for people I love who are hurting, and light for those deep in depression’s shadows.
I read of yet more shootings in our neighborhoods, and I long for children to be able to play outside, and for police officers and teachers to do their work without fear of stray bullets. I hear of cuts to local social service agencies and wish for friends who live with disabilities to have support and meaningful work. And I hear of people at a church in our community speaking and listening to appalling words of hate and xenophobia, and I long for a world where Christians speak very different words full of compassion and mercy, and also work together to build a world where every single person would have life and have it abundantly.
I can imagine you could write a list of such longings, too. These lists demonstrate not just how much we need a Savior, but also how much we, as followers of Jesus, need a season like Advent. These weeks before Christmas give us space for our longings and hope.
For many Christians around the world, purple is the color for Advent. A royal purple which invites us into the penitential spirit of this season, a “little Lent.” It’s a time for some internal house cleaning, for “every heart to prepare Him room.” This helps us pay attention to our longings with some self-reflection.
I pray for an end to violence, but I also have to be honest about the attacks of my sharp tongue. And even as I speak out against the hatred spoken by others, I know I still have work to do to unpack my own biases and assumptions and prejudice. The purple of Advent demands I be honest with myself about the ways I have failed to love my neighbors “by what I have done and by what I have left undone.”
But this season is not just about the purple of repentance. Here, at St. Paul and many other churches, we celebrate Advent not with purple, but blue. Not just any blue, but the color of the night sky just before dawn, a color of hope. It’s a color that names that we’re still waiting and longing. The light of a new day is coming, but we’re not there yet.
This time gives us space to wait and hope. Our longings are important in our lives of faith, because they give us a vision for a world we long to see. They can be our guide to help build a different kind of world. They are the cracks where the light can get in. Our longings are so much more than a Christmas wish list, they are a gift God gives us to define our hope, to give us eyes to see as we wait, and to encourage us to do the hard work of bringing those hopes into reality.
So, in this Advent time, let’s prepare our hearts to welcome Jesus, both with the purple-hued spirit of honest self-reflection, and the deep, hope-filled blue of the dawn.