2016 has been a hard year for many of us, bringing crises both personal and public, meaning that the tradition of rejoicing on the Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday) may not come easy. The awaited redemption that we celebrate today, when God “gives justice to the oppressed, / And food to those who hunger,” and finally “sets the prisoners free” and “lifts up those who are bowed down,” can seem very far away. Indeed, we seem to languish ever more irredeemably.
This day reminds us, though, that the salvation we seek came in the shape of a cross, a symbol that binds our sorrow and our rejoicing together. The Lord told Thomas B. Marsh to “let [his] heart be of good cheer” just a few verses before this admonition: “take up your cross, follow me, and feed my sheep.” We take up the cross when we care for each other in our suffering, when we, in Isaiah’s words, “Strengthen the weak hands, / and make firm the feeble knees,” and “Say to those of a fearful heart, / ‘Be strong, do not fear!'” We mustn’t grumble, therefore, but be patient and strengthen our hearts. In this cross-shaped world, while we wait for Jesus, we must be Jesus to each other.
Jesus calls us to be his harbingers, and that means that we have to eat locusts and honey in the wilderness, not live in royal palaces wearing soft robes. Unpleasant as this may sound, the way of the cross is also the way of rejoicing. There may be opposition in all things, but we still exist for joy. We don’t find that joy in ease or indolent luxury, but in the work of giving care and comfort. We are shepherds, and we must smell of the sheep we are called to feed.
Let us therefore rejoice today in expectation of our redemption, but we can’t let that rejoicing be nothing but a series of empty Hallelujahs. We properly rejoice by giving kind words and a friendly hug to someone who needs it. (Don’t we all?) We properly rejoice by dealing our bread to the hungry and our clothes to the naked and by taking in the stranger. We rejoice by sticking up for someone who is being bullied or threatened. We rejoice, finally, when we stop running away from the cross, when we learn to embrace it and live it out, just as did Jesus our Savior, in whom all our rejoicing finds life.
Third Sunday of Advent
The Collect: Father of our rejoicing, who sent Jesus into the world as a slave to die for us on the cross: grant that we, as his body on the earth, might also take up our cross, that in doing so we might learn to have a care for one another, growing in love through our faith and hope in Christ until at last we all rejoice together, one people as you are one God. Amen.
For the music, I’ve chosen the classic Advent hymn “Veni, veni, Emmanuel,” for its refrain of “Gaude, gaude!” I love this version by the King’s Singers: