Summary: On this third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday), we change from penitence to rejoicing for what is to come.

John 1:6-8, 19-28

The shortest and darkest day and longest night of the year – the Winter Solstice – occurs this week. It is the onset of the winter season when the sun is the furthest from Earth and is often a time of darkness, doubt, and fear.

And yet, Sunday is Gaudete Sunday - a beloved day in the Advent season that fills our hearts with joy and anticipation. This unique Sunday stands out as a beacon of joy and hope as we journey towards Christmas.

‘Gaudete’ is a Latin word meaning “Rejoice.”

Philippians 4:4-5 instructs us to:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God.

The ‘rejoice’ command appears over 150 times in the Bible; obviously, this is critical to following the teachings of Jesus.

The word Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” The focus of the entire season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus in his First Advent and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his Second Coming. Thus, Advent is far more than simply marking a 2,600-year-old historical event. It is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ, and all creations reconciled to God. We now participate in the consummation that we anticipate. Scripture readings for Advent emphasize the Second Coming, including accountability for faithfulness at His coming, judgment on sin, and the hope for eternal life.

The history of Gaudete Sunday is deeply rooted in Christian tradition. The observance dates back to the medieval period when the Church recognized the need to balance the penitential nature of Advent with moments of joy and hope. The third Sunday of Advent serves as a brief respite from the more somber aspects of the season, allowing believers to rejoice in the imminent arrival of the Christ child.

Today, Gaudete Sunday, REJOICE Sunday, reminds us that Christmas is nearly here. The somber tone suddenly turns joyous today – we shift from deep purple to pink to give us a clue that we’re nearly there. In essence, Gaudete Sunday encapsulates the dual nature of Advent – a time for reflection and repentance, balanced with anticipation and rejoicing in the promise of redemption. It serves as a reminder that, even in our preparations, there is joy in the expectation of the Savior's arrival.

All the expectation, the longing, the waiting will soon be over – we’ll be opening the presents we wanted, and some perhaps we didn’t.

Sometimes, we can’t hide the disappointment in socks, homemade knitted scarves, or chunky sweaters knit by a well-meaning relative. As a people of faith, we do well to know where our true joy comes from – those who know the pain of disappointment in others, what they say and do, or what they forget to say and do.

True joy comes from God. If we rejoice when times are good, only when we get what we want, only when we hear what we want to hear, then quite frankly, God needn’t bother with Christmas. ‘Keep your Son,’ we should say – thank you very much, we don’t need him. Even John the Baptist wondered whether the guy he heard so much about was ‘the One’ – he sent his disciples to double-check. Jesus said: ‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating’ – see what’s happening – lives are changed.

Lives change through encounters with Jesus – is yours, is mine – or is something holding us back from fully embracing the little child?

For those who have faith that brings them to worship God (rather than just be entertained on a Sunday morning), joy and faith can keep us going – despite what life throws at us.

Our hymns at this time of year can particularly hit nerves. Take In the Bleak Midwinter, for one. Hasn’t it been miserable enough? This last year, we’ve had floods, drought, winds and storms. Christmas is nearly here to lift our hearts, and we start singing about bleak midwinters!

Perhaps the writer of that hymn did lose the plot and think that Jesus was born on a bleak, windy moor in a January blizzard. Was it winter in Bethlehem? Did it snow? Or was it an ordinary Middle Eastern night with nothing happening except angels appearing and singing?

Perhaps, though, some of us have in our minds what a bleak midwinter is all about – I don’t mean the weather outside; I mean the experience inside us. There are many stories within our communities of the midwinter life experiences – whose ground is hard and cold. Comfort can be elusive: maybe because of a loveless marriage, a depression that is hard to shake off, the sadness of life without a loved one, concern for a child, worry about health and the future, and so on. Christmas in this light can seem like fluffy, trivial nonsense. Christmas might be memorable for the comfortable or those wishing to escape reality, but a romantic, fluffy Christmas can offer little refuge to those in the bleak midwinter of life.

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