In the Western Church, the Third Sunday of Advent is sometimes called by its Latin name, Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete means “to be joyful” and “to rejoice.” On Gaudete Sunday, our rejoicing is most often symbolized by lighting a rose-colored candle on the Advent wreath. The color rose is made when the color white is added to purple. Rose symbolizes that Christ, the Light of the World, is getting closer and dispersing the darkness with light but is not yet here. Because we still await the coming of our Savior, our joy is like a seed that is content to remain unobtrusive as it delicately develops deep within us. Our rejoicing is very much like a child developing within a woman’s womb. A woman knows when she is pregnant and she patiently waits in contemplation not knowing what to expect but quietly telling others that great things are happening for her. The importance of knowing that we are pregnant with joy as we await the coming of Christ on Christmas is what today’s scripture passages attempt to describe.
In the first reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, the spirit of the prophet is overjoyed with the realization that he is the one God has chosen to bring the good news that God’s light will shine on Israel and justice and peace will flourish. He foresees the coming of the Messiah ushering in a new era. “As the earth brings forth its plants, and garden makes its growth spring up, so will the Lord God make justice and praise spring up before all the nations.”
In the Gospel of John, the rejoicing spirit developing deep within John the Baptist is expressed in his testimony, “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord.” This witnessing is not a grief-stricken cry. It is a direct statement of jubilation springing up from within John to proclaim the coming of Christ.
We may be surprised by our insight that we too are chosen, like the prophets Isaiah and John the Baptist, to receive the seed of joy that God plants in us. At our baptism, we unknowingly say “Yes” and the life of God begins its course of gestation. We become the ground out of which the incarnate God flowers in the world. Divinity is awaiting entry into human history at the threshold of our own heart’s door.
I believe that the challenge for us today is to realize that when one is pregnant, one is always pregnant. We wake up in the morning, move through the day, work, play, eat, love and sleep pregnant. We cannot put it aside, take a vacation from it, and come back to it later. The fact that we are pregnant pursues us and comes to affect everything we do. This means that while the joy developing within us is expressed in what we say and what we do, ultimately joy is who we are. It is this joy that has us sending Christmas cards, purchasing and making Christmas gifts, decorating our homes, baking cookies, singing in or along with the Christmas choir and so on and so on during the holiday season. During the rest of the year, our joy prompts us to overlook the irritations of life and to create the joys of life for ourselves and for others.
St. Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preacher, is described in the documents for his canonization as a joyful friar who taught his followers to praise, to bless, to preach. Proclaiming and preaching the Word following prayer and study was a value he imparted by his example. He taught his friars the art of reaching the hearts of others by animating them with a love for humankind. Once, after delivering a stirring sermon, he was asked in what book he had studied it. “In none,” he answered, “but that of love.” If we are pregnant with the joy of God, we are the place of Advent watching; we are the place of Advent waiting. We are the womb through whose pulsing life God is born.
Fr. Bob Kelly