When I was a young boy, the day after Thanksgiving began what my parents eventually coined ‘the countdown to Christmas.’ Since I grew up in a church that did not celebrate liturgical seasons, we put our tree and decorated the day after Thanksgiving. This would begin the monotonous building of anticipation as presents were slowly added under the tree for a whole month. The week prior to Christmas, my parents would let me open one small gift early, because if they didn’t, they might lose their sanity. So, they would pick the package that I would tear open with excitement. Sometimes it was a pack of pencils for school, or a new pair of socks. Other years it was a pack of batteries that was meant to accompany some other bigger gift that I would receive on Christmas morning. What could it be that would require a set of six “D” batteries? Perhaps the latest Star Wars toy? Or, as I got older a new “Boom Box!” While the gift was never intended to fully satisfy my anticipation for Christmas morning, it did manage to enhance my joy and excitement as I began to imagine what Christmas surprise would be awaiting as I awoke at the crack of dawn and snuck downstairs to peer around the corner at the tree.
This building of excitement, anticipation, and joy is not just an experience of my childhood, but has emerged in my adulthood as an ‘angel in the architecture.’ In our monastery church, we follow a tradition that is common across liturgical traditions, of embodying this mounting joy in the wonderful symbol of the Advent wreath: a ring of seasonal evergreens with four candles that are lit one by one as we arrive at each new Sunday in Advent. Each week of Advent, we move further into darkness as we reach the longest night of the year at the Winter’s Solstice, which coincides closely to our celebration of Christmas, when we commemorate the birth of Jesus whom we know from John’s gospel as ‘the Light of the world.’ As each week progresses in the deepening darkness, we light a new candle in the anticipation and hope of the birth of Jesus, the Light of the world, at Christmas.
The third Sunday of Advent (just a little over a week before Christmas) is called ‘Gaudete’ Sunday—Gaudete is the Latin word for ‘rejoice.’ This day is marked by the addition of the color rose to the Advent blue, In many Advent wreaths, you’ll see three blue candles (or purple depending on your tradition) and one rose candle. Here at the monastery, we place pink roses among the evergreen branches of the wreath, and our altar frontal is turned around to the side that contains only blue and rose. The seasonal Advent Chasuble (the vestment worn by the presider at the Eucharist each day) has a ring around the shoulders that symbolizes the Advent wreath with four golden crosses, three set in a deep blue, and one set in a velvety swatch of rose.
Even as our building changes subtly around us, our worship reflects a similar change. In our readings for the third Sunday in Advent, we notice a shift in tone from a building anticipation of hope to one of rejoicing (there the ‘rejoice’ of Gaudete again). As I hear this call to rejoice early, I feel like a child again: It’s as if we have been given a present to open early in order to give expression to our joy as we approach Christmas.
Of course, like all the symbols of Advent, this observance is not only meant to symbolize the first Advent of Jesus at Christmas, but also to remind us that we are awaiting his second coming at the end of the age, when this veil of tears will melt away and we will all be together in the presence of God as one family beloved by our Creator. We still await the fulfillment of Jesus’ sacrifice to reunite all of creation through grace. In the meantime, we are all called to live in the spirit of the third Sunday of Advent, in joyful expectation and hope.
During this third week of Advent, reflect on those things that make you joyful. How are you being given a ray of hope in this present darkness? How is God pointing to gifts placed in your life like pink roses augmenting an evergreen landscape? What is your experience of living in the light of the third Sunday of Advent? How might you help to spread this joy to a darkened world so desperate for a new dawn that will usher in the growing light and warmth? Gaudete! Rejoice!