Today is the 3rd Sunday of Advent. Tonight, friends will come to our home. We will light 3 candles. The first 2 Sundays of Advent we lighted purple candles. Tonight, we will light the two purple candles again and also light the pink candle. 3 Lighted candles will burn in our Advent wreath.
Traditionally, the pink candle symbolizes hope. I Peter 1 describes it:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.”
To be clear, this hope never pretends there are no problems in the world. That would be denial, not hope. In fact, the gospel reading for this 3rd Sunday of Advent is Matthew 11:2-11. It is the account where John the Baptist is thrown in prison. Talk about problems. Yes, this was the forerunner of Jesus who had once said:
The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Now this forerunner to Jesus — the one who preached “Prepare the way of the Lord” — is in prison. I can only imagine what John might have been feeling when he asked his followers to go to Jesus and ask if their mission is real. “Ask him this,” John said, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Hope is not without questions or doubts. My goodness, no. Our hope is wise enough to know the Holy Spirit is not the only player on the field. Most are aware of when the Apostle Paul describes the battle against the rulers, authorities, powers of this dark world and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6)
But with the help of the Holy Spirit, hope rises above despair. Thus, this third Sunday of Advent we square our shoulders and stand as people of hope, not giving in to despair.
As the pink candle is lighted tonight in my home, we will read from Romans 5 where Paul assures us that we can hope in our salvation with confidence, knowing this “this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.”
Jesus’ answer to John’s disciples was one of hope: “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen— the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” And he added, “God blesses those who do not fall away because of me.”
There is hope on this 3rd Sunday of Advent because this world is not our ultimate home. So let us raise our voices and sing with gusto from one of Charles Wesley’s great Christmas hymns “Come thou Long Expected Jesus,” which includes this poignant phrase: “hope of all the earth thou art … dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.”