By Lorraine Triggs
I am a latecomer to celebrating the four Sundays of Advent. My first season was one of those weekends when Thanksgiving and Advent collide. That Saturday, I was in a slightly frantic pursuit of a brass Advent ring and the four candles.
"Purple, purple, pink, purple," I muttered to myself, knowing the right shades of purple and pink mattered. Then inspiration hit—the Wheaton Religious Gift & Church Supply store on Front Street would have the brass ring and candles.
Entering the store from the alley, I nodded to the kind-looking woman by the cash register, admired the Fontanini nativity sets and quickly found the brass ring.
"Purple, purple, pink, purple," I said softly.
"May I help you?" asked the smiling store associate.
"Oh, I just need a set of Advent candles. I can't seem to find any on the shelf." I pointed to an empty shelf under a display of glass Christmas ornaments.
Her smile froze. "You're looking for Advent candles today?"
"Yes for the wreath." I held up the box. "Do you have any more in stock?"
"You do know Advent begins tomorrow, don't you?" An edge crept into her voice. "Why are you just now looking for the candles? You should have been in here weeks ago. Why didn't you plan ahead?"
"Uh, I'm sorry, I'm Protestant," I said the first thing that came to mind. "I'm not used to Advent."
"Well, next year, plan ahead and come in early November," the woman admonished me. I wasn't really sorry for being Protestant, but somehow I had disappointed the shopkeeper. I wasn't really sure I wanted to embrace this Advent thing, and her tone reminded me of descriptions I had heard of nuns in parochial schools scolding children for being, well, children.
That year, we had lovely Christmas red candles in the brass ring and a white pillar candle for the Christ candle. About that Christ candle—it was linen-scented, which I thought would remind us of the cloths in which the Christ child was wrapped and the ones the resurrected Christ shed at the tomb.
Well, not exactly, the linen-scented candle clashed horribly with our traditional Christmas Eve dinner of cheese enchiladas, homemade refritos and tamales from the Mexican grocer.
Nowadays, we keep an heir and a spare of Advent candles around the house. But one year in the not-too-distant past, we couldn't find the spare, and it was another one of those Thanksgiving-Advent mash-ups.
We spent Saturday avoiding the possibility of dissapointing someone else at Wheaton Religious Gifts and checked out Hobby Lobby. No boxed sets of Advent candles there. The first Sunday of Advent dawned and our brass ring sat candle-less.
As soon as church was over, we got in the car, determined not to return home without a set of Advent candles. According to Google, the craft store, Michael's, had boxed sets of them.
We went to the Michael's on Army Trail Road and started to look for the candles. There were aisles of red and green silk flowers, a variety of plastic life-like garlands of pine, spruce, holly. We showed the image on our phone to clerk after clerk the little box of four candles from the store's website. None of them seemed to know what we were talking about. We were directed to the home decor section, a row of regular candles, the craft aisle and finally wandered through the Christmas aisles.
And there, hidden behind Christmas glitter and glitz, was a small display of Advent candles—purple, purple, pink, purple. And, wait, it gets better, the Advent candles were 75% off and only $1.25 a box. Shoved off to the clearance rack to make room for New Year's Eve party supplies, almost no room at the inn, I mean, craft store. It felt like Michael's couldn't wait to get rid of their Advent candles. We splurged.
Like those boxes of Advent candles, Jesus' first advent was hidden from the powerful and glamorous. These people who had no time for a baby's birth. The news came to unnoticed shepherds who, when offered costly grace not just at a discount, but for free, ran rejoicing to the newborn king.
Slow down. The Promise. Wait. Bethlehem. Make room at the table. The messengers/prophets. Take the time for reflection and prayer. The Shepherds. Consider the incredibly humble journey of Jesus to the manger. Christ the King.
Purple and pink after all are the colors of royalty and joy.