Your church may celebrate the season using a traditional Advent wreath embedded with five candles. The wreath is often made of evergreens, which symbolize eternal life. Four of the candles are arranged in a circle, one lit for each Sunday of Advent. The fifth in the center is lit during the Christmas Eve service. This final “Christ candle” is usually white, signifying light and purity, while three of the others are purple, signifying Christ’s kingship.
The remaining candle, lit today on the third Sunday of Advent, is rose pink, signifying joy. Today’s reading begins our focus on joy in the context of humility. After baptizing Jesus, John the Baptist continued his ministry of proclaiming the kingdom and calling people to repentance. He could have seen Jesus’ overlapping ministry as competition and could have shared the envy expressed by some of his own disciples (vv. 25–26). Instead, John had a clear understanding of God’s plan and his role in it. What mattered most was the identity and authority of Jesus, the Messiah (v. 28). He was the Son of God from heaven (v. 31). Metaphorically, He was the Bridegroom at a long-prophesied wedding (v. 29). John saw his own identity and mission entirely in relation to Christ. John was the forerunner, sent ahead to announce the Messiah (vv. 27–28). He was otherwise a normal man (v. 31). Metaphorically, he was the friend of the Bridegroom, or what we might call today the “best man” (v. 29).
John’s response to these truths is instructive. Far from feeling envious, he felt complete joy (v. 29). The Messiah had come, the Bridegroom had arrived! John’s mission and joy mandated that Jesus “must become greater; I must become less” (v. 30). Such humility is the exact opposite of worldly “joy” and ambition.
>> To help launch this week’s Advent theme of joy, consider singing or listening to the Christmas carol, “Joy to the World,” or a popular chorus, “The Joy of the Lord Is My Strength” (see Neh. 8:10).
We delight in Christ, the Son of God, and the Bridegroom of the Church! Today we echo John’s words, praying that we would be humbled and Christ magnified.