“Ours is not a joy born of having many possessions, but of having encountered a Person: Jesus, in our midst.” —Pope Francis
“Rejoice in the power you have within you from Christ to be a nucleus of love, forgiveness, and compassion.” —Chieko N. Okazaki
The third Sunday of Advent is a day of joy and celebration, gaudete being Latin for “rejoice.” On this Sunday, the typical penitence that accompanies Advent observation gives way to allow for exultant gladness and hope in resurrection and redemption; it is a day of elation and jubilation. It is represented by the rose candle on an Advent wreath.
As this Sunday approached, my four-year-old daughter told us this week, “I can’t remember when Jesus was born.” She thinks she ought to remember this event like she remembers the birth of her baby sister three months ago. It is difficult to explain to her just how long ago Jesus was born, how He lived, and then how He died and lived again, all in order to save a staggering number of mortal sinners throughout eternity. My husband and I make attempts to teach this holy narrative through a posterboard nativity we draw piecemeal throughout the Advent season, small figures that our daughter and two-year-old son color before placing them inside our paper stable. Baby Jesus won’t appear until Christmas Eve; as December passes, the stable becomes filled first with Mary and Joseph, then a manger, an embarrassed innkeeper, angels, kings (sometimes queens), shepherds, and animals (including a friendly king cobra and Tyrannosaurus Rex this year). Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus will appear together on December 22, eager to bring their own gifts to the Christ child.
My husband and I agree that Baby Jesus is the easiest character of the Nativity to draw. “It’s just a little jelly bean with a cute smiley face,” he says as I draw. We place posterboard Baby Jesus into the December 24 pocket and add two Hershey kisses for our preschooler and toddler. Baby Jesus might be the tiniest figure in our nativity, but He will take the central place in our stable, and all the other characters and animals will be turned toward the little paper bean with faces of rapture, celebration, and love.
It means something to me that Jesus did not come to earth in a cloud of fire and fury, a fully grown male power come to dominate and lead. No, Jesus came to earth as a helpless baby in humble circumstances, relying on the wisdom, goodness, and love of a young woman and her husband in a world rolling in warfare, evil kings, and unjust death. And this is what strikes me. At Easter we will remember Christ’s death and resurrection, and we will remember that it was us—the World—who sacrificed Him on the cross. But at Christmas, we remember Christ’s birth, and we will remember that it was us—mere mortals—who cared for Him and loved Him and helped Him to grow.
This is worth celebrating to me: that Heavenly Father entrusted imperfect mortals with the care of His Son, and that the young girl Mary bravely gave birth to the Being who would also be her Lord and Savior. She must have nursed Him right away, feeling her body contract as she began to heal from childbirth; she must cuddled Him close and smelled His newborn skin; she must have been filled with the same wonder, anxiety, and anticipation that new life brings to the minds of most parents when acknowledging the responsibility of a tiny new human.
I rejoice that God trusted Mary to love Jesus like this. I rejoice that the earth is still filled with humans likewise capable of such love.
A note on the song: One of the oldest Christmas carols is “Gaudete,” composed at least as early as the 16th century and perhaps even earlier. Versions of the song abound, and plenty of performances can be found in a quick YouTube search. You can hear a traditional performance of “Gaudete” sung by Libera, a British boys’ choir, here . British synthpop duo Erasure (with Depeche Mode’s Vince Clarke) has a recent version, too, with an accompanying music video of stop-motion monks celebrating a cold Christmas inside gloomy cathedral ruins. But the best rendition, in my opinion, is this version below by Steeleye Span, a ‘70s British band whose “Gaudete” became a hit single in spite of being completely in Latin and a capella to boot. Grab some spiced cider and a cozy nook, stare moodily at the snowy expanse outside, and give it a listen.
Here is an English translation of the Latin:
Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born out of the Virgin Mary—rejoice! [Chorus]
The Time of grace has come—what we have wished for,
songs of joy. Let us give back faithfully.
God has become man, with nature marveling;
the world has been renewed by Christ who is reigning.
The closed gate of Ezekiel is passed through;
whence the light is raised, salvation is found.
Therefore let our preaching now sing in brightness.
Let us give praise to the Lord: greeting to our King.
Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus ex Maria virgine, gaudete!
Tempus adest gratiæ hoc quod optabamus,
carmina lætitiæ devote reddamus.
Deus homo factus est natura mirante,
mundus renovatus est a Christo regnante.
Ezechielis porta clausa pertransitur,
unde lux est orta salus invenitur.
Ergo nostra concio psallat iam in lustro;
benedicat Domino: salus Regi nostro.
Third Sunday of Advent
The Collect: Heavenly Father, we thank Thee for a Plan of Happiness that will reunite us with Our Heavenly Parents. We thank Thee for Christ, who came to earth to provide salvation for man, that they might have joy. Please help us to celebrate Thee through worship and thanksgiving. Help us to share our gladness in the sacred communion we share with our loved ones and neighbors and wards, that Thy light shall shine with us as a beacon of hope and love. In Christ’s name, Amen.