This Sunday, the Third Sunday in Advent, is traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete means “Rejoice!” and it comes from the old Roman introit for this Sunday:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your modesty be known to all men: for the Lord is nigh. Be nothing solicitous; but in everything by prayer let your requests be made known to God (Phil. 4). Lord, thou hast blessed thy land; thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob (Ps. 84). Glory be to the Father… (You can click the image below to hear the introit chanted.)
The opening words come from Paul’s letter to the Philippians 4:4-7: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
This time of year it is easy for some of us to rejoice, but for others, it is the most difficult time of the year to rejoice. When I’m feeling particularly salty, I feel like asking, “What gives, Paul? Rejoice? Really?” Maybe you feel like that, too. But Paul’s “Rejoice” and the Church’s “Gaudete!” is not so much a command as an invitation.
Paul was no stranger to suffering. In fact, Paul writes this letter, in which he talks so much about rejoicing, while he is in chains (Phil. 1:7). He contemplates what it might mean for him to be put to shame (Phil. 1:20), by which he probably means the humiliation of torture, crucifixion, and/or execution that might be his fate. It is exactly in the midst of this that Paul says he will rejoice (1:18) because the Good News is spread, the Good News that in Christ God is making things right, the Good News that we are not forgotten or alone in our affliction, but that the “world is about to turn.” And Paul invites us to leave behind our brokenness, our failures, our despair, and our desperation, and cling to the God who is coming. “Let your gentleness by known to everyone; the Lord is near.”
The Lord is nearer than you think. God is coming every day, every hour. The perfection of all longing and joy is drawing ever nearer. So, Paul invites us to rejoice, and the church invites us to rejoice, because as Christians we live always on the cusp of a dawn in which everything broken will have forgotten its brokenness, as Mary Oliver so deliciously puts it in one of her poems. And so, why wouldn’t we want to rejoice?
What is broken in your life? What is damaged and disfigured? What is lost, and how have you been left feeling alone?
Whatever it may be, may the invitation of Paul and the summons of the Church this Sunday remind you: the Lord is near, restoration is near, redemption is near. So rejoice! Rejoice in the Lord, always, and again I will say Rejoice!
What might it look like if we leave our brokenness be, if we leave our disappointment and regret to tend themselves for just a short time? Maybe try it this week. Just for five minutes or ten. And sit in the presence of the God who draws near to hear beyond the heartache, the frustration, and the grief, hear that you are loved, cherished, and honored, tenderly and thoroughly.