Lift Up Your Hearts: Rejoice

This Sunday we celebrate the third Sunday of Advent! This is one of the two weekends during the year when I break out the Rose-colored vestments. I remind people almost every year that rose is a fantastic color, but that I would not get caught dead wearing pink. I once had a parishioner come out after mass and tell me, “you know, Father, real men wear pink and eat quiche.” I had to laugh at that one, and I’m glad he affirmed my love for quiche; especially with bacon.

This Sunday is called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for Rejoice! It is used in the imperative form, second person plural, thus commanding “all of you, rejoice!” I was always told that the main reason why we rejoice on the third Sunday of Advent was because we are over half way through the season and almost to Christmas. And indeed, that is the purpose. Advent used to be similar to Lent, which is a penitential season. Normally, flowers were not permitted in the sanctuary and music was simpler. The arrival of Gaudete Sunday is a moment of rejoicing and a break from the time of fasting and penance, because of the nearing of the celebration of the coming of the Lord. This command to rejoice is much deeper than what we would call holiday cheer. While many of the beautiful things that we do during this season do grant us cheer and fill our hearts with contentment, there is so much more to the fruit of the Spirit called joy.

Last week, our readings portrayed the call of St. John the Baptist to make straight a highway for the Lord and, in a certain sense, to make room for Jesus in our hearts by repentance. When we repent, it means that we are convicted of our sins and that we accept responsibility for them. We acknowledge our sins before God in true sorrow, offer penance, and then we convert and turn our lives around. Confessing our sins, as the scriptures say to do, brings us to a greater peace and a greater freedom that perhaps we were missing before. Many of us take the time during the season of Advent to make a visit to the confessional to say to the Lord and to the Church that we are sorry for the ways that we have offended Our Lord and other people. It is a time for us to make amends, to forgive, to give love and to let go, because this is precisely why God has come into the world – for us. Once we have received this mercy and forgiveness, there is much to rejoice in. The Lord is near and comes ever closer to the heart that humbles itself and receives His mercy. So, naturally, the Church gives us this day to rejoice in the blessings that we have received from the Lord. A heart that constantly turns toward the Lord in conversion and repentance is one that will begin to experience a deeper joy than what the world can give.

This Sunday, we hear from Isaiah in the first reading who says to us “I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice, like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels. As the earth brings forth its plants, and a garden makes its growth spring up, so will the Lord GOD make justice and praise spring up before all the nations” (Isaiah 61:10-11). The robe of salvation comes to us through the forgiveness of our sins. This helps us to keep in mind the purpose for which Jesus was born, giving us much to rejoice for. The second reading this Sunday continues with the theme of rejoicing. St. Paul admonishes us, saying “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:16-18). This line is very comforting, because it reminds us that God made us for lasting joy. St. Paul helps us to see that it is the will of God for us to rejoice, to pray always and to be thankful. So, as we continue this Advent season, let us ask the Lord for true repentance, so that cleansing our hearts and making room for Him we might be found ready to receive the added blessing of an abiding joy.