Elise Ashley Hanley
Advent 3, Year B, 16 December 2017
Trinity on the Green
Today, the Third Sunday of Advent, is also known as Gaudete Sunday – the Latin, “Gaudete,” meaning, “REJOICE!” Today, we light the pink candle on our Advent wreath; some of our sister churches even get decked out in pink or rose colored vestments, and we are reminded by the command in today’s Epistle reading to “Rejoice – always!”
For some of us, that might be easier said than done, even or especially during this time of year.
I remember as a child, the Third Sunday of Advent was an important marker for me. I couldn’t wait to light that pink candle. This was both because, as a little girl, I LOVED the color pink, but also, because once we lit it, it meant that Christmas was really soon! It meant that we were more than halfway there! I rejoiced with a child’s sweet impatience and anticipation of all the wonders of Christmas.
Now, as an adult, I light that pink candle – and I panic, because it means that Christmas is really soon! This year, it seems even sooner, for the Fourth Sunday of Advent IS Christmas Eve! That pink candle makes me pause, and question my preparedness – not only around shopping or decorating, but as a priest and spiritual leader: have I slowed down enough this Advent? Have I made enough time for extra prayer and reflection? Have I truly prepared enough for Christ’s coming into my heart and life? (Have I posted that daily “hashtag” Advent Word on Social Media?) Have I done all that has been expected of me, and all that I have told others is expected of them?
The answer to these questions most years, including this year, is NO. Life gets in the way. Consumerism throws us off track. Unexpected illness or death causes us to lament and disconnect. The end of the year requires final exams from students, grading from teachers, end of year fundraising and sales from and for non-profits. Instead of being still and reflective, the pace of life often seems to accelerate from the First Sunday of Advent on.
But today is Gaudete Sunday – today we called to rejoice. At one time, Advent was observed more like Lent – it was a penitential season, and there was a strictness to observing the liturgy, like no organ playing allowed. Gaudete Sunday was the break in between – a chance to break one’s fast, to play the organ, and to focus on the joy in the nearness of Jesus’ return.
Wherever you are today in your Advent journey – even if you don’t feel like you’ve been on one – I invite you to pause with me, and rejoice. Rejoice, even though everything might not be accomplished, rejoice, even though everything might not be fine. It’s ok if everything isn’t done and wrapped with a bow. Henri Nouwen writes that:
“Joy is not the same as happiness. We can be unhappy about many things, but joy can still be there because it comes from the knowledge of God’s love for us. Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. It is a choice based on the knowledge that we belong… to God…Joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing — sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death — can take that love away.”1
We are promised God’s grace and mercy to help and deliver us. We are promised Jesus, in just one week from today! Let us choose joy. Let us rejoice.
1 from The Heart of Henri Nouwen: His Words of Blessing.