The third Sunday of Advent marks the midpoint of the season… in Catholic terms, this is like “hump day”, where we happily see that the conclusion of our journey is within sight. Referred to as Gaudete Sunday, it takes its name from the Latin word for rejoice. We will hear this word several times throughout this Sunday's Mass in our prayers and our readings. We light the rose colored candle on our Advent wreaths, rose being a mixture of Advent violet and Christmas white. Not only is Christmas a joyous occasion to celebrate the birth of our Lord, but it reminds us that we are joyous (not fearful) of his return.
The Word for the 3rd Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11
Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28
We open with a great announcement from Third Isaiah, that the anointed brings glad tidings to the poor. If his words sound familiar, they should. Not only are they reminiscent to the announcement made by the angels to the shepherd in the Nativity narratives, but these are the same words Jesus reads in the synagogue in Nazareth, after which he proclaims that this prophecy has been fulfilled. Indeed, such news from God, in any age, is cause for great celebration.
Our responsorial Psalm mirrors this joy and praise to God, but its source and its voice are not what you might expect. This passage isn’t from the book of Psalms… it’s from the Gospel of Luke, and it’s voice isn’t from David or an anonymous psalmist, but from the Virgin Mary. Taken from a passage referred to as the Canticle of Mary, this song of praise follows right after she and the pregnant Elizabeth greet each other. Both the message and the messenger are fitting for this Gaudete Sunday.
Our second reading comes from the concluding verses of Paul’s 1st Letter to the Thessalonians. His direction to “rejoice always” are words we ourselves would do well to follow. But this isn’t a reckless kind of rejoicing, for in the same breath Paul reminds us that we must also pray and give thanks. Our rejoicing comes from the gift of Spirit, given to us by Christ, so that we may find what is good in preparation for the coming of Christ.
This takes us to our Gospel, this week from John as he proclaims the coming of John the Baptist. Our theme of rejoicing continues here as our messenger is almost giddy with anticipation for the great one who is to follow. As the end of our Advent Season looms on the horizon, we too should be joyous for the Lord’s coming.
Although Advent is meant to be a contemplative season, much like Lent, it carries with it a joy and anticipation that is hard to contain, and Gaudete Sunday is meant to reflect those feelings. As Catholics this Sunday affords us the opportunity to celebrate the coming of Christmas in a special way. For me and my family, this is when we go out and get our Christmas tree. Like incense in church, that fresh pine scent fills the house telling us that the Christmas season is almost upon us. Some folks say, “what? you’re only now getting your tree?” And believe me, some years this can be difficult as many tree lots are already closing up shop. But we began this tradition in an effort keep from getting caught up in the commercialization of the holiday. To ease our way toward Christmas, knowing that we don’t have to get all the decorations put up over night. To embrace the spirit of Advent and take this time to prepare, both our home and our spirits for the Christmas season that is still to come. Like Mary and Elizabeth, we take this time to rejoice, pray, and give thanks to our God for the gift of his son.