St. Thomas' Church, Whitemarsh
It’s hard to believe, but we’ve already made it to the third week of Advent! I don’t know about you, but I’m already starting to feel tired.
This Advent has been a particularly dark one. As the Bishop mentioned yesterday, the last few weeks have brought to light the sin of racism, this week the Senate admitted that the CIA tortured suspects in the wake of 9/11, and today marks the second anniversary of the shootings at Sandy Hook. Between Isaiah’s warnings and John the Baptist’s call to repentance, our lectionary readings haven’t really been super uplifting, either.
And now here we are on the third Sunday of Advent and we are face-to-face with John the Baptist yet again. Can’t we get a break?
Well, actually, yes we can. The readings in the first two weeks of Advent were focused more on Jesus’ second coming. But this week marks the time when we turn our faces toward Bethlehem and the coming of the Christ-child, God come to dwell with us on earth. The third Sunday of Advent is traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday. “Gaudete” is Latin for “rejoice.” Today’s reading from 1 Thessalonians (which we read this morning) begins with Paul’s instruction to “rejoice always” (1 Thes 5:16). Paul is writing to encourage this Christian community in their faith. He instructs them to "pray without ceasing"; not just to spend time in personal prayer but to make their whole lives an offering of prayer to God. Paul also tells the Thessalonians that they should find things to be thankful for, no matter what hardships they face.
Now, while Paul is directing us to “rejoice [and] give thanks in all circumstances,” it does not mean that he is handing us a pair of rose-colored glasses to wear so that we can ignore what’s happening around us (1 Thes 5:16). As we know, there are many injustices in this world, and we can get overwhelmed by all the frightening and depressing stories on the news and be tempted to withdraw in order to protect ourselves from the pain of it all. I struggle with this, too. But when we are baptized, we vow to “…strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being” (BCP 305). We cannot stay in our little bubble; at some point we have to return to reality.
When Paul is urging the Thessalonians to rejoice, he is not glibly advising them to shake off their cares and “eat, drink, and be merry” (paraphrase of Ecclesiastes 8:15). Paul is speaking from experience; he and the Thessalonians are being persecuted for their faith. But despite the oppression they face and the constant threat to their lives, they respond with an even stronger calling to follow Christ.
If Paul and the Thessalonians can find a way to rejoice while they are undergoing suffering, then we should be able to find reasons for rejoicing in the midst of the difficulties we face. We, too, should be capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. It is possible for us to speak truth to power and demand justice, to lament the pain and suffering present in our country and in the world, and at the same time to celebrate moments of beauty when God breaks through amidst the suffering, to rejoice in moments where we feel God’s presence. We are capable of doing both of these things simultaneously.
In our church we mark Gaudete Sunday and the occasion for rejoicing by lighting the pink candle on the Advent wreath. If the deep blue candles remind us of the sky on a dark winter evening, then the rose-colored candle is the first pink light in the sky, heralding the dawn. It serves as a reminder that while we are doing our part in this broken world to prepare the way of the Lord, we are also called to approach the manger with joyful anticipation of the indwelling of God.
image found here