By the Rev. Robert Morrison, vicar of St. Alban’s, Albany
Color is one of the ways in which our lives are enriched. Some people, of course, have varying degrees of being challenged. I don’t know the science, but I suspect that each of us sees color in a slightly different way. Spiritually, mentally and emotionally, we may feel drawn to a particular range on the color spectrum, so we may think that a certain shade leads in one direction or another.
However we see it – and I hope that we’re all able to appreciate color in one way or another – our minds can be captivated and stimulated, set at ease, encouraged, filled with hope and joy when we watch such things as the change in the seasons and the leafing out of trees, for instance.
Similarly, the turning of leaf color and their falling to the ground in autumn reminds of life-progression. When, finally, the trees and flowers around us seem to have lost their color, this is not a mark of desolation but of the recharging of creation. Experience teaches us that our hope for renewal is not misplaced. Life returns, slowly. In fact, it continues out of our sight as roots, tubers and bulbs soak in nourishment from the earth, resting in preparation for a new year.
So the “dark” colors – browns, greys and blacks – are not lifeless or hopeless, but marks during regeneration.
The Church has made use of this understanding and effect of color as a way to replenish our spiritual lives. Just as in the physical world in creation, so in the spiritual realm we’re guided, encouraged, nourished and drawn to reflection in the way that different Church Seasons and Occasions talk to us at different times and situations in our personal and communal lives.
The season of Advent begins, appropriately enough this year, on the first of December, helping us to see clearly the focus of what we’re doing and where we’re going, and, as we enter the door into the new year, we note a change in atmosphere, brought about in no small part by the color shift.
The color violet or purple used to be prescribed for Advent and Lent. This signified penitence during the period of preparation leading up towards the next observance. In the case of Advent, this preparation leads to the Feast of the Incarnation and the following season of Christmas. This penitential preparation emphasized the need for recommitment as we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth and the hope of His Second Coming.
Liturgical scholars, however, pointed out the different “feel” that exists between Advent and Lent, and suggested a return to the practice at Salisbury (Latin name, Sarum) Cathedral in the south of England. There, blue was used to signify hope and expectation along with the fact that blue has long been used to show a connection with Mary, the mother of Jesus. This helps to give a new appreciation for what we anticipate during the weeks leading up to the Incarnation. It also points towards rethinking who Mary was and how we may have misread and misjudged her life and ministry.
Luke’s Gospel is the only one to tell us about the approach of the archangel Gabriel to Mary. Carols and tradition have led us to believe that Mary, when she conceived Jesus, was a meek, pliant, even subjugated, teenager. In actual fact, it is Gabriel who is overcome when Mary and the archangel meet. Gabriel kneels in wonder before the grace which is present in her. Gabriel discovers what God knew, that this was a woman of intelligence, of humor, of strength, who was willing to challenge when need be.
The writer Nancy Rockwell points out in “No More Lying about Mary” that, unlike some of the other women mentioned in both Hebrew and Christian Scripture, Mary’s domestic prowess is never mentioned. She was alert to the religious tradition in which she’d been raised, but she was equally alert to the social inequalities and injustices of her day. The “song” which she sang in her visitation to Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, talks about the need for a radical overhaul of the social and political structure present in her day (and still present).
As Rockwell wrote, “Mary, wanted by God, according to the angel, for her bold, independent, adventuresome spirit, decides to bear a holy child – for a bold agenda: to bring the mighty down from their thrones; to scatter the proud in the imagination of their hearts, to fill the hungry with good things and send the rich empty away. This is Mary: well-spoken, wise, gritty.”
And this is the Mary who would raise Jesus. It’s little wonder he turned out as he did. Son of God and Son of Mary – how else might he have lived and taught; how else might he have died and risen?
When we encounter the Blue of the Season beginning on the first of December, then, let’s reflect on the wonder, the changes in which we’re to re-engage, and on the ways in which each of us will encounter God and God’s messengers throughout the rest of our lives.
May we live a wonderful, eye-opening Advent and celebrate with great joy the birth of God among us. May we enter into the mystery of Epiphany, the revelation of what happens when God is in our midst.