The mid-point of Advent provides an opportunity for us to stop and shift our focus to a consideration of Christ’s birth in history. The third Sunday of Advent is a particular manifestation of the theme that comes into view as this focus changes.
Historically the third Sunday of Advent has been called “Gaudete,” or “Rejoice” Sunday because of the first words of the entrance antiphon prescribed for the Mass, which quotes Saint Paul’s admonition in Philippians 4 to “Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I say, rejoice! Indeed the Lord is near!” The Church invites us to turn our thoughts from the weighty considerations of the end of times to the birth in time of the One who spares us from that destruction and seemingly hopeless situation.
There exists even the option on this Sunday for the rarely used Liturgical color of rose to be employed. It reminds us of the white light of the Christmas season that is about to overpower the darkness of the violet used in Advent.
Sadly, however, this time of year is not always one of rejoicing for many. It’s far too easy to reflect on the celebrations of Christmas past with longing in our hearts for the good old days — the times when things were more simple, or prosperous; the days when we were more healthy, or the ones we have loved were still with us; the times when there was more cultural focus on faith and less on the acquisition of new merchandise.
Yet such was the case when the Savior was born. The prophets had foretold of a time when God’s chosen ones would be vindicated for their trust in Him. The prophet Zephaniah, who preached to God’s people after two successive kings had forced idol worship on God’s people, declares “the Lord has turned away your enemies!” This was foretold six centuries before Christ came so it reminds us that we must be in for the long-haul when it comes to trusting in the promises of God.
Recently Pope Benedict ruffled some feathers when he wrote that there were likely no animals present at the birth of Jesus. Here’s another shocker: Jesus was probably not born on December 25th either! The first Christians, in an effort to help the converting pagans see how Christ was the fulfillment of their prior beliefs, saw how the idolaters worshiped the sun God on December 25th. Recalling that the Christ said “I am the light of the world,” the Christians said on December 25th let’s not worship a giant ball of light-giving gas in the sky, but rather the One who has brought joy, hope, peace, fulfillment, meaning — all the fruits of light — into the world.
Late Advent and Christmas is a time to remember that the violet of our sorrows can only be whitened by the light of Christ. He is the One who can and will restore those good old days to us in the life of heaven and maybe even before that time comes. No wonder John the Baptists says, “I am not to loosen the thongs of His sandals.” The Baptizer wanted us to place our hope not in a human being, but in God Himself.
God has become one of us and He knows what we need and where we ultimately we want to spend eternity. That is a cause of our taking delight in the Lord; that is the reason for rejoicing!
Father Bryan BABICK, SL.L. is the vicar for Divine Worship and the Sacraments for the Diocese of Charleston. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.