By Bishop James Conley
This Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, we will light the rose-colored candle as we celebrate Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete simply means “rejoice,” and is taken from the first words of the entrance antiphon, “Gaudete in Domino semper” – Rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4: 4-6). And so, as we make our final preparations for Christ’s coming – we rejoice!
Advent, in the words of Pope St. John Paul II, is “the time of expectation for the definitive return of Christ!”
If we abide in Christ, and live as his disciples, then his “definitive return” is, indeed, a reason for great joy. If we follow Christ, we can anticipate his coming as faithful servants expecting the Master, who will draw us into the fullness of his love.
But Gaudete Sunday offers something for those who have fallen away from the Lord as well, those who have drifted from the path. Christ came into the world for sinners, not for the righteous. He became man, and went to the cross, and conquered death, and ascended to heaven, for the broken, the lost, the stubborn, and the reprobate. Christ came into the world so that all people might live in the freedom of truth, and in the joy of his love.
No matter who we are, we can rejoice at Gaudete Sunday because Christ offers us mercy for our sins, an understanding of the meaning of our lives, and a knowledge of salvation, and the forgiveness of our sins.
Joy, Pope Benedict XVI taught, “enters into the heart of those who place themselves at the service of the least and the poor. In those who love in this way God takes up his abode and the soul is in joy.”
If we live as disciples of Jesus Christ, we know joy.
But our call, at all times, is to share the source of our joy.
The Gospel on the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, taken from St. John, is about the cousin of the Lord, John the Baptist. The Gospel says that John “came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.”
This Gaudete Sunday, we each must ask ourselves the question, “do we testify to the light?”
John the Baptist’s whole life was a witness to salvation in Jesus Christ, a prophetic proclamation that Christ would come into the world. This Gaudete Sunday, we must ask ourselves if our lives are witnesses to salvation in Christ. And, in particular, we must ask if we give witness to joy.
At Christmas, we are blessed with the opportunity to share the source of our joy. At Christmas, many of us gather with family and friends, for celebrations of the season, in the conviviality of being together. But for many people, Christmas can be a time of loneliness, of pain, of difficulty. Christmas can be a time when a witness to joy is especially needed.
We give witness to the source of our joy by choosing, amidst our celebrations, to “place ourselves at the service of the least and the poor.” By giving ourselves, and our time, to those who are alone, or unhappy, or poor. By being generous with our lives, and our hearts, to those who need love. We give witness to joy by choosing to be servants, knowing that Christ is coming, and that we serve him by serving others. We give witness to joy in humility, and as we do so, we discover ever greater depths of joy, in unity and friendship with the Lord.
At Christmas, wrote Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, we “rejoice in the perfections of our Savior Christ, without thinking of ourselves, without thinking of our own miserable uncleanness; but contemplating His glory, His righteousness, His purity, His majesty, His overflowing love. We may rejoice in the Lord, and in all His creatures see Him. We may enjoy His temporal bounty, and partake the pleasant things of earth with Him in our thoughts; we may rejoice in our friends for His sake, loving them most especially because He has loved them.”
May we rejoice in the Lord this Advent, and may we always give witness to joy, and to its source, our savior, Jesus Christ. Gaudete in Domino semper!