Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah. John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."
The signature scene in one of my favorite films - Children of Men - is during a pitched battle between British armed forces and the various rebellious factions within a massive and brutal concentration camp for refugees. Years earlier, for reasons no one can explain, human beings lost the capacity to give birth, and the world's youngest person is eighteen years old. In this milieu of hopelessness, the violence between people, groups, and institutions has continued and even been amplified. Then one woman, a young African refugee in Britain, finds herself pregnant. She has her child, with the assistance of her companion - a dissipated former political activist - in the camp, and is fleeing a shot-up building in the middle of this battle, when - as she carries the bay through the din - everyone who sees the baby stops fighting, falling silent, even dropping to their knees. For a blessed few minutes, the mere appearance of this infant stops the fighting. Then the child passes out of view, and a shot rings out behind our trio, igniting the battle afresh.
In the four weeks of Advent, we light candles: three violet or blue candles on the first, second, and fourth week of Advent. Violet/blue is also the color for Lent - a season of penitence. For Advent, it calls to mind a couple of things: royalty (a new kind of King is about to be born, who will free the oppressed) and funerals - the color of the sky on a sunless day. Advent is a time of waiting, and in waiting, we remember. The yearning for this Savior grows out of something lightless, vast, and terrible.
Yet on Gaudete Sunday, we are called to joy. Not at the beginning or the end of the season, but in the middle - the midst of this forlorn tension between anxiety and regret, between the fear of disappointment and the troublesome tombs of memory. We are called to joy, to hope, symbolized in a rose-pink candle, like an impossible moment that flickers up in the darkness, even as darkness - we know from experience - will return. The intersection of kairos - of God's time - through our broken, violent, and often dreadful chronos - human time.
So we get this glimpse as it goes past - we on our plane, and the divine splitting through it, only seeming again to disappear. Like that child being carried through a battleground and that moment of reverent silence. Then the fighting begins again.
Given the seeming intractability of sickness, violence, hatred, death, and the lust for power, is ours a fools' hope?
Of course it is. Light that candle.
For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He that takes the wise in their craftiness: and again, The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise that they are vain.