Rev. Paul O'Neill was thankful for the brief shift of hue in Advent. The purple candles were symbolic of penitence, emphasizing our unworthiness before God. He believed this stress was needed and preached as such. However, he also believed that self-hatred was the alpha monkey on most backs; that deep down, far below the way people presented themselves, shame reigned supreme. With so many jobs and homes being lost lately, the purple candles just seemed to rub Rudolph's question hard: why am I such a misfit?. He was always afraid that purple muffled the thing most true about us all; that we couldn't hear the light for the flame.
Advent's third Sunday burned from the rose-colored candle; the day sometimes referred to as Gaudete, from the Latin for rejoice. Joy. Happiness. Mirth. Now that was more like it.
The ministerial alliance in town had adopted a year long emphasis: What if life is not about happiness, but holiness? The query had been emblazoned on everything from youth group t-shirts to banners stretched across church parking lot entrances and although each rendering ended with a question mark, the words left little room for discussion. Thankfully, for Rev. Paul O'Neill, the year in year-long-emphasis was almost over. He had conscientiously objected the pressure of his peers; he thought the whole thing just a hair shy of stupid. If God truly is Our Father, who art in heaven, then what father does not desire happiness in the hearts of his children? Joy on their faces? Laughter in his ears?
Most of his peers thought him arrogant and unorthodox, a man of contention. If they only knew how faithfully he prayed for them and their families, that they would find the pearl of great worth: the smile of God.
He had spent much of the week engulfed in pastoral care among the people. Monday held Christmas-and-Easter-only-Charlene's hip replacement, but somebody needed to sit with her nervous husband Bill. Tuesday was Dan's mother's triple bypass, complete with fifteen relatives at the hospital, two of which would receive Oscars for best dramatic performance in a waiting room. Wednesday's predawn hours saw old Mr. Gordon slip beneath the surface of time; his graveside service Thursday afternoon reminded Rev. Paul of that Eleanor Rigby line - nobody came. Friday was supposed to be his day off, but he had to get the oil changed in his Volkswagen and Jimmy was working that day at the Jiffy Lube and Jimmy spent most days depressed and Jimmy could talk the horns off a goat and well, it is what it is.
Although it appeared he had given most of himself away during the week, he hadn't. There were still secret spaces in Paul O'Neill's heart and mind that he kept open, reserved for things held dear. Meggie Randall's family had occupied one of those spaces all week long. He had prayed for them as he prayed for his peers; that they - John, Susan, Hannah, Jill and Lori - would find the smile of God. The week began with Meggie held in such a place, but as the days passed, she began spilling over into all the other spaces. Meggie Randall became the embodiment of his prayers for the people, all of them; that those with ears would hear and be happy.
He spent Saturday evening among good friends, eating homemade Italian food and watching Talladega Nights. Rev. Paul heard Ricky Bobby pray: Dear Lord Baby Jesus, I want to thank you for this wonderful meal, my two beautiful sons, Walker and Texas Ranger, and my Red-Hot Smokin' Wife, Carley. He laughed so hard he cried. It seemed a gift after quite a week.