The Third Sunday of Advent traditionally is called “Gaudete (rejoice)Sunday.” The Scripture readings reflect a theme of rejoicing. This year, the “C” Cycle of readings emphasizes this theme in the opening words ofthe reading from the prophet Zephaniah, “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!” The second reading, from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, is just as direct: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again: rejoice!Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.”
If we think about the calendar, celebrating Gaudete Sunday on the Third Sunday of Advent guarantees that the season is at least half over. On the Third Sunday of Advent this year, it is only 12 days until Christmas.Similarly, during Lent, “Laetare (rejoice) Sunday” is on the Fourth Sunday of Lent – which means that Lent is half over. (A simple trick to remember which “rejoice” Sunday belongs to which season is to remember that “Laetare” and “Lent” are both L-words.)
The idea of rejoicing because Advent is at least half over works well for young people already excited about Christmas. For busy adults, with much more yet to accomplish before Christmas arrives, the reminder that Christmas arrives in less than two weeks from may cause more dread than delight.
So often, “rejoicing” seems to be about what makes us feel “happy” or “up” or “good inside” (like the Browns beating the Steelers) (sorry all you Steeler fans out there). Feelings come and go; rarely can a person sustain a feeling for a long time. The rejoicing that Paul is writing to the Philippians about – “rejoice in the Lord always” – is something he intends for them to sustain. It is not a matter of holding on to a good feeling, but of rejoicing because we recognize the Lord is near – here, now, today, in this moment.
This season has many reminders of the nearness of the Lord. St. Paul says, “your kindness should be known to all.” That’s an important clue. Look around – where do you see kindness? Where do you see goodness? compassion? However small, however fleeting, however ordinary the act may be, each moment of kindness or goodness or compassion reflects the goodness and compassion of God – and reminds us that the Lord is near.