Today’s readings and liturgy call us to rejoice. That’s the reason for the rose-colored vestments and the more joyful tone of today’s readings. This is called Gaudete Sunday: Gaudete being Latin for “rejoice,” the first word of today’s introit or proper entrance antiphon which says: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed the Lord is near.” The Church takes that antiphon from the words of the second reading today.
And there is reason to rejoice. The prophet Zephaniah tells the people Israel that, even though their sins had displeased the LORD to the point that he gave them over to the hands of their enemies, he has relented in his judgment against them and will deliver them from their misfortune. Their deliverance is so complete that the LORD will even rejoice over them with gladness!
In his letter to the Philippians, Saint Paul calls us to rejoice too. The reason he calls for rejoicing is that “The Lord is near.” He was referring to Jesus’ return in glory, of course, which they thought would be relatively soon in those days. While he never saw that in his lifetime, we may. Or perhaps our children will, or their children. One thing we definitely know is that the Lord is near. He does not abandon us in our anxieties but instead listens as we pray to him and make our petitions with thanksgiving. Our Lord is as near to us as our next quiet moment, our next embrace of someone we love, our next act of kindness. Rejoice indeed!
Maybe this call to rejoice rings a little hollow today, based on the continued presence of terror and mass-shootings and civil unrest in our society. And even perhaps a bit closer to home, maybe we ourselves are experiencing the illness of a loved one, a broken relationship, job or financial insecurities, or any other kind of sadness. The world can be a very bleak place, our lives can be in turmoil, and rejoicing can be the furthest thing from our hearts and minds. But our faith tells us we can rejoice anyway. The Psalmist sings today about the kind of hope our world needs right now:
God indeed is my savior;
I am confident and unafraid.
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
and he has been my savior.
And it is up to us to bring this kind of hope to a world that has almost become accustomed to horror and shock and terror and sadness. Sometimes it seems that the world may almost prefer to sit in this kind of darkness, even find some kind of weird comfort in it, but not people of faith. People of faith instead light a candle of hope and rejoice in the light of Christ! People of faith can rejoice because even in times of sadness and despair, the presence of our God is palpable, realized in stories of heroism and seen in acts of charity and grace in good times and in bad.
And so today we rejoice because our Lord is near. We light that third, rose-colored candle on our Advent wreath. We look forward to celebrating the Incarnation, perhaps the greatest and best of the mysteries of faith. That God himself, who is higher than the heavens and greater than all the stars of the universe, would humble himself to be born among us, robing himself with our frail flesh, in order to save us from our sins and make his home among us for all eternity – that is a mystery so great it cannot fail to cause us to rejoice! Indeed that very presence of God gives hope even in the worst of times – THE LORD IS NEAR!
These final days of Advent call us to prepare more intensely for the Lord’s birth. They call us to clamor for his Incarnation, waiting with hope and expectation in a dark and scary world. These days call us to be people of hope, courageously rejoicing that the Lord is near! Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly and do not delay!