Today was the Third Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Joy.
A group of International students from Virginia Commonwealth University had been invited to light the Advent candle. They processed slowly down the aisle as the youth girls’ ensemble sang. They mounted the steps and gathered around the Advent wreath. They held the lit taper to the pink candle and we all watched and waited for the wick to catch flame.
It didn’t happen.
I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so much suspense in church. I kept watching, willing the wick to catch. The student who was holding the taper seemed to have it in just the right place, but even so another student reached up to help. They adjusted the flame, moved it ever so slightly back and forth, but no matter what they did they couldn’t seem to get it to work. Finally, the song ended, and they had to step down from the chancel, the pink candle still unlit.
It seemed shockingly symbolic, that on a day when most of us were still grieving over the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the candle of joy wouldn’t stay lit, almost as if God himself were saying, “How can the flame of joy dance on its wick on a day like this?”
Maybe those students didn’t fail. Maybe they lit the candle over and over again and God kept snuffing it out, whispering, “No, not today.”
You can’t really schedule joy, and unfortunately you can’t really schedule grief. It comes when it comes. And it came today:
The Third Sunday of Advent.
Jim Somerville is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Richmond. This article originally appeared on his blog.