Gaudete Sunday has always been my favorite Sunday. Growing up, I loved lighting the rose candle in our Advent wreath, and it was usually the weekend we would decorate the house for Christmas. There’s also the bonus of it being the Sunday closest to my birthday. Every year, it was easy for me to obey the Church’s command: “Rejoice!”
The Sunday gets its name from the entrance antiphon of the liturgy: “Gaudete in Domino semper…Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. The Lord is near.” (Philippians 4:4-5) The readings of the Mass are full of joy and expectation, and the excitement for the coming of the Messiah becomes more tangible.
Pick up the book of Isaiah and see the joy in his prophecies. His world was lying in wait for a Savior, a Messiah. That is the penance of Advent. The waiting, the darkness, the emptiness yearning for an answer, for a light, for a Savior. Isaiah tells us that when he comes, even nature would shout out in joy. Flowers would burst forth in the desert. Water would flow in the parched land.
Isaiah is trying to remind us that the coming of the Messiah is a big deal! We needed a Savior, and the Jews had been waiting for thousands of years for his arrival. What was an even bigger deal- what Isaiah couldn’t even imagine- is that our Messiah is God Himself. How often do I forget, in my apathy, the importance of the Incarnation?
I was reading a beautiful children’s book to my nephews the other day – Song of the Stars by Sally Lloyd-Jones—and was struck by its simple yet profound message. “The world was about to change forever, and it almost went by unnoticed,” she begins. In the story, the leaves are rustling, the flowers are at attention, the animals are chattering, singing, whispering, roaring… “It’s time, it’s time!”
When the Son took human flesh, the creatures recognized their Creator had entered space and time. “The one who made us has come to live with us!”
Do we feel that same joyful expectation? Do we still recognize the enormity of the event of the Incarnation? Or have we become desensitized to it? Have we lost the urgency of our need for a Savior, and take for granted the gift of his presence?
Gaudete Sunday is a day of joyful expectation. Think of how the town buzzed after the events of John the Baptist’s birth. The Gospel of Luke tells us, “and all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea; and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” (Luke 1:65-66) The precursor had arrived, and the Messiah’s birth was imminent.
The Incarnation is the single most important event in human history. Life is different now! What Isaiah could only imagine has now become our reality. Have we lost this? Do we manifest joy and hope? Can anyone tell we’ve been saved?
Pope Francis likes to remind us of the joy of the Gospel. He once quipped, “An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!”
Our God has come to live with us! These last few weeks of Advent, cultivate that gift of hope in your life. Pray to receive the joy of the Gospel.
It doesn’t mean I’m waking up every morning singing. It doesn’t mean I’m walking around with a fake smile plastered to my face or that I never have a bad day. It doesn’t even mean that I’m always cheerful. It doesn’t mean I don’t have crosses in my life, whether they’re small like traffic or large like an illness or a broken family.
I don’t have hope because my life is full of roses and butterflies and comfort. I have hope because I know the answer to the thorns and the crosses. The answer is Jesus Christ, and He has come to live with us.
Rejoice! The Lord is near.