Advent Blues

Blue is the color of the church season Christians call Advent–meaning presence, or arrival–although some churches use purple. Our church uses blue. Our Advent wreath has three blue candles, and one rose for the third Sunday. Blue is the color of royalty, a color notoriously difficult to achieve in dye, often unstable. In Christian iconography, blue is the color of divinity. For me, blue is always the color of holy mystery, coming as it does in the season before Christmas: a sign of divine presence stirring, the mystery of birth, of water, of womb, of hidden events about to come to light. Blue is what gets lit up by stars, the color of distant space, the deep of the cosmos, and the deep of the sea.

Blue is appropriate for a church on Cape Ann, for we have more opportunities than most people to contemplate the color blue. Blue on blue, the sky and ocean surround our small rocky bit of an island.

Blue hues underlie the gray of our granite, and blue spruce crop up in the woods. Evenings in December deepen into a midnight blue; stars brighten with the colder weather. Every day I see different possibilities of blue in the sea, blue-green, blue-purple, blue-black, blue flecked with foam, still quiet blue.

Advent for us is a penitential season, but there’s an underlying joy; blue is not as somber as the purple of Lent. Words and themes we use in this season have to do with darkness and light, repentance, watchfulness and preparation. It’s a rich season. When you observe Advent with some conviction, you find yourself making a kind of spiritual resistance to the pressures of the secular forms of Christmas, especially those which encourage us to be good consumers and spend money we don’t have on presents we don’t need.

We use blue in church as a sign of hope. Yet for many people, in a supreme irony, Advent arrives with the blues. Sometimes a blue mood in this season is due to Seasonal Affective Disorder, a sadness or depression which comes with the change in sunlight. As we lose exposure to the sun, we lose vitamin D, as well, and our mood may change. As the days darken and grow longer, sometimes our spirits sink.

Some of my friends who have the blues in December sit under special lamps, soaking up artificial sunlight. Some people fight the blues with extra vitamins and exercise. Others fortify themselves for the holidays with eggnog, pies, fruitcakes, and a host of holiday carbs. Some drink too much, some argue with their families more, others travel. Some make music, singing and playing in wonderful seasonal concerts. Some of us just hunker down and hope for the solstice, when the days begin to get longer again.

But here are some things to ease the heart, small daily happenings that speak of light in the darkness. The first winter storm of the season is due, and it smells like snow. We head out the door for the holiday fairs happening all over Cape Ann. We are surprised to find a gift. Sometime the day before, unseen, a neighbor has dropped off a large bag of beautiful butternut squashes, enough to last the winter. A little boy passes us on the street and calls out “Pastor Anne, we’re going to the Christmas fair! Are you coming?” He’s practically jumping up and down. He’s got change in his pocket, and will spend 25 cents on a large purple glass ball, to be hung on his Christmas tree.

At the Christmas fair, Martha Hill, our eldest member and one of our beloved centenarians, rides the church elevator for the first time. She looks surprised to be doing it. Santa Claus stands in the elevator with her, smiling hugely. We shoot photos. Later in the morning, two women come by with their dogs for more pictures with Santa.

At the Plum Cove Grind, Meredith Glaser, the owner and baker, par excellence, is taking orders for holiday cookies and pies. She’s busy; people are in and out all day. Her shop smells like the warm spicy kitchens of childhood. We discuss the delights of church fairs, hopping from one church to another along Washington St., picking up recycled treasures from Christmases past.

Every day, kindnesses abound. Someone takes the time to knit mittens for her neighbor’s children. Another person comes home from work to find his yard raked and cleared by his friends next door. In the church office, we field requests for help with gifts for the holidays, or food, or bills. We delegate the requests out to willing helpers, who want to lend a hand in a tough time of year.

When I take time and pay attention, when I look closely at the lives of those in our communities, I find signs of hope and faith. I see a gracious generosity ready to spill over into acts of mercy and compassion. So far this Advent, the good things I see people do for each other far outweigh the bad news on the airwaves. This is the season of goodwill toward all. Look closely, watch for it, expect it, practice it, and you will see it.

Whoever you are, whatever your faith, may peace be with you in the coming days.

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