The Color of Your Advent Candles Doesn’t Matter


I have no patience for debates over the color of Advent candles and whether or not to sing Christmas songs in Advent. God became incarnate, and candles and carols are all some church professionals seem to care about. Give me a break. Here’s my problem with all this.

Spoiling Advent

First, it’s adiaphora, which is a nice Greek word that means “it doesn’t matter”; it is inconsequential for salvation, and, in this case, one might say, just inconsequential whether your candles are purple, pink, or blue. The overwhelming public witness of Advent should be about counter-cultural waiting, repentance, and anticipation of the incarnation. It should not be about which hymns and candles to use.

Isn’t this just like the church? We get into these arguments about little things that only church people care about, and everyone else beyond the church (and you know there are more and more of those, right?) finds it completely irrelevant. No one beyond the church cares about these things. Really. No one. And we wonder, “Why aren’t people coming to our churches?”

Liturgical Fundamentalism

It becomes what I’ve come to call “liturgical fetishism” — getting everything perfectly “right,” as if all those little details are effective for salvation, or even proper worship. They’re not.

What I see in this and many conversations around the church is a form of liturgical fundamentalism. We make the liturgy itself into God, in much the same way fundamentalists make the Bible into God. And whether you follow the proper rubrics becomes the measure of the quality of your leadership, perhaps even your character. At its worst, it becomes what I’ve come to call “liturgical fetishism” — getting everything perfectly “right,” as if all those little details are effective for salvation, or even proper worship. They’re not.

This is not what I learned in seminary from my wonderful liturgy professor, Gordon Lathrop. I learned that one should approach the liturgy with gentility, humility, and humanity. Liturgy is the work of the people, but it also ought to serve people of God and is always sensitive to context. Liturgy is always pastoral with a small “p.”

We can worship with integrity across styles and contexts. We can debate liturgical practice, but when it becomes our primary witness, it is a detriment to the work of the church.

Hopefully this Advent we can announce the season as an invitation to waiting, longing, love, and incarnation. Because, really, nobody cares about the color of your candles.

This article is adapted from Keith’s blog and used with the author’s permission.

Related Resources:


About Author

Keith Anderson is pastor at Upper Dublin Lutheran Church near Philadelphia and author of the recently published The Digital Cathedral: Networked Ministry in a Wireless World (Morehouse Publishing, 2015)

What is God's vision for your congregation?What Next Faithful Step is God Calling Your Church to Take?

Discovering God’s Future for Your Church is a new turn-key tool kit to help your congregation discern and implement God’s vision for its future. The resource guides your church in discovering clues to your vision in your history and culture, your current congregational strengths and weaknesses, and the needs of your surrounding community. The tool kit features videos, leader’s guides, discussion exercises, planning tools, handouts, diagrams, worksheets, and more. Learn more and watch an introductory video now.

Weather Alert: The Lewis Center is closed Wednesday, March 21 for snow. Dismiss