Advent Series 1: The color purple

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I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same minds and in the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers and sisters. –Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, Chapter 1:10-12

By Bruce Stanley, President / CEO of Methodist Home for Children

By the 12th century, the colors used to decorate Christian churches had become standardized. Ordinary Time is green and signifies growth, among other things; Pentecost is red and reminds us of the tongues of flame; Christ the King Sunday and communion are white, which speaks of purity; and Lent is purple, the color of royalty. Curiously it is Advent, the first of the “seasons” in the liturgical year, during which churches will most vary. Many will display blue in honor of Mary, whose portraits ancient and recent all depict her wearing that color. Most however, will use purple so that seasons of Advent and Lent are “twinned,” joining together Jesus’ birth and death.

I have long been a fan of blue – partly because, in celebrating Mary, I am reminded of my own mother’s wonderful life and constant love. And honestly, you can call me shallow, but blue is probably my favorite color. This year, however, I must admit that I need to see some purple. Purple became the color of royalty because historically it was difficult to manufacture and thus cost prohibitive. Only the very wealthy could afford it. In modern times, of course, we are able to blend red and blue pigments to produce purple. But the reason I want to see more purple has nothing to do with recalling royalty.

In our nation it has become common for persons seeking political gain to seek to divide us. From precinct to city to county to state to region, our nation is labeled as either red or blue. This divisive spirit has intruded from the secular world into the sacred. Persons of faith seem more anxious to make their point than make peace. Many seem more interested in arguing than seeking to understand another’s perspective. In its most pernicious form, we take a cause of our own and claim it as God’s.

As we enter into this season of Advent, my prayer is that Scripture and Sacrament move from chancel and pew into a divided world with undiminished vigor. I pray these words of Paul are not simply printed on the page but writ large upon our hearts and minds. God sent His son into this world that we might be reconciled with Him and with one another. Where the Spirit is, unity is. Let us each begin with confession and ask Christ to come into our hearts. Let us give thanks for Christ’s sacrifice and recognize He came for ALL people. Let us with humility seek to have within us only the mind of Christ. Let us begin dialogue with those who differ – not with suspicion of motive but with a deep desire to understand. May blue and red blend in Advent and beyond into the color purple. May the report offered about us be that there is no longer quarreling among us.