We have reached the Third Sunday of Advent, otherwise known as Gaudete (“Rejoice”) Sunday. Throughout today’s prayers and readings, we are reminded to have joy in the coming of the Lord. Indeed, “Rejoice” is the first word in the Introit for the liturgy today and comes from Philippians 4:4-5: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near.” In anticipation of the Feast of the Nativity, the Collect of the Day asks of God to “enable us, we pray, to attain the joys of so great a salvation and to celebrate them always with solemn worship and glad rejoicing.” In the first reading, from the Prophet Isaiah, we are told that at the coming of the Lord, the desert and steppe “will bloom with abundant flowers and rejoice with joyful song.” In the same reading, we are told that “[t]hose whom the LORD has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy; they will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee.” Joy permeates this liturgy.
That we should have joy is right and just, but this Third Sunday of Advent is not only in the middle of the liturgical season of the same, but also in the middle of finals season at Yale. For some of us, it is difficult to see the joy amid so much anxiety and remembering so much this semester that did not go as expected. For others in this community who do not have the “joy” of writing final papers and taking final exams, there is often difficulty in this season, nevertheless. Further still, not only are we called to have joy, but also told in the second reading from the Epistle of James to “[b]e patient…until the coming of the Lord.” How do joy and patience work together?
In preparing the way, St. John the Baptist (in his own way) joyfully proclaimed the coming of the Lord. After meeting and baptizing Jesus, John expected the kingdom of heaven and judgment to come soon. Like most saints, John the Baptist was not perfect. He lost patience. In today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew, John the Baptist, from prison, sends messengers to Jesus, asking him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” This question perhaps comes from a crisis of faith caused by John’s incarceration or perhaps because Jesus had not done what John expected him to do. Either way, matters had not gone as expected for John, and he despaired. As it was for John, so too is Jesus’s answer to John’s disciples a curative to our despair. Jesus is the answer to all our questions if we but have the spiritual eyes to see and ears to hear. Not only is the Lord coming; he is near. Our salvation is near.
Will we rejoice in the Lord even when what has been promised has not yet been fulfilled? May we have both joy and patience and have them in abundance as we await the coming Kingdom of God. As the Communion Antiphon today reminds us, despite all the trials of this life, “our God will come, and he will save us.”