Why Blue for Advent?
Purple is the traditional color for the season of Advent. At St. Paul’s, Ivy our tradition has been to dress the altar with a fair linen but no frontal, and for the clergy vestments and the pulpit and lectern hangings to be purple. Purple was the most costly dye in ancient times (it came from sea urchins!) and was therefore used by kings to indicate their royal status. Purple also signifies the repentance of God’s people as they patiently await the arrival of their Lord. In more recent times, some churches have adopted blue as the color for Advent. Blue represents hope, expectation, and heaven. It is also the color associated with the Blessed Virgin Mary in art and iconography.
Deep blue is the color of the clear, predawn sky, the color that covers the earth in the hours before the sun rises in the east. Most of us are not looking at the sky at that hour – perhaps we’re still asleep, or too weary to notice it as we get into our car for our commute. Nonetheless, a deep, dark blue is the color that covers us in the dark, cold hours before the dawn.
Thus we use deep blue for Advent to shade the season with a hint of expectation and anticipation of the dawn of Christ. Surely penitence and spiritual discipline are part of the traditional Advent observance, and this is why so many of us are using Advent wreaths and devotionals to mark the days of Advent. Advent is a time to recommit to our faith and to our God – no matter the color. But Advent involves more than penitence and by using deep blue we err on the side of emphasizing the church’s hope-filled and faithful watch for Christ. The deep blue of Advent is meant to inspire in us the hope of faith, and to encourage us to keep watch for the promised light of Christ to break over the horizon, changing night into day, darkness into light, and filling our lives and our world with a holy and righteous splendor.
This Advent we are introducing blue vestments, an altar frontal, and pulpit and lectern hangings. They are intended to help us mark Advent as a distinct season, different from our Lenten season of penitence and fasting. No matter your color preference, I hope and pray that you will find this season to be shaded by both the purple and the blue, by the reflective self-examination suggested by the penitential purple, and by the hopeful anticipation suggested by the predawn blue … for both colors call us to lives of faithfulness in this time before the coming of our Lord.
God’s Peace, The Rev. Eric J. Liles