Today is Gaudete Sunday, named for the Latin rejoice. The other three candles on the Advent wreath are purple, symbolizing penitential preparation for the coming of Jesus. However, today’s candle is pink to remind us of the entire purpose of the Christian liturgy and the Gospel message—rejoicing in the Lord.
Thus, the lectionary for today focuses our attention on rejoicing for all the comings of Jesus–the first into a stable in Bethlehem, the present and ongoing coming into our hearts, and his final “com[ing] in glory to judge the living and the dead”:
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,
my whole being shall exult in my God. (Isaiah 61:10)
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name. (Canticle 15: The Song of Mary/Magnificat)
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 5:16)
My first priest in the Episcopal Church continually reminded us, “Joy is not the absence of suffering, but the presence of God.” Ours is not to question the challenges, the sorrows, or even the tragedies that beset us, but to acknowledge that God is present in our lives and will bless all these circumstances to our use if we only allow him to do so.
In his Summa Theologica, Saint Thomas Aquinas takes this premise further:
Joy admits no sorrow for it is not an act of the sensitive faculties, e.g. enjoying food is a natural joy. . . . Supernatural joy which is spoken of on Gaudete Sunday and in the Gospels is an act of the intellectual appetite known as the will.
Thus, joy is not only the fulfillment of our Advent yearnings, but our duty as those created in the image of God. With that goal in mind, may we always follow the admonition of Paul:
Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)