Readings for the Third Sunday of Advent can be found here.
And just like that, we find ourselves at the Third Sunday of Advent! If you are thinking that Advent seems to be moving fast, you are right. Because of this being the shortest possible liturgical Advent, this Third Sunday is also only one week from Christmas Eve. And, because it is the 17th, it is also the day we begin our traditional O Antiphons. Moreover, this Third Sunday is Gaudete Sunday, the day we light the pink candle. Gaudete means rejoice, and today our readings communicate this theme of rejoicing.
From the prophet Isaiah, we hear: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my salvation” (Is. 61:10).
Our psalm response features the Canticle of Mary from the Gospel of Luke: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Lk. 1:46).
And our second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians begins with “rejoice always” (1 Thes. 5:16).
It is interesting that the Church designates this Third Sunday of Advent as a day for rejoicing in the midst of a season of preparation and penance for the great season of Christmas, especially when we really only have one week left to prepare for Christmas Eve. And yet, we can see the wisdom of this, and perhaps witness it profoundly in the children in our midst. They are just so excited for Christmas! There is a real joy in this wait; the anticipation of the joys to come itself brings some joy.
John the Baptist fits into this framework of joy as the herald of Christ who is to come. As great and amazing as John seemed to be, he was not the light, but came to testify to the light. His appearance in our gospel today gives notice again that Jesus is coming – the light in the darkness, just as Christmas is a bright spot during the dreary winter months. And from John we also are reminded of his words that he must decrease and Christ must increase. In the Nativity, we see the humility of God become man and born in a stable. The selflessness of this divine emptying is foundational for the celebration of Christmas; God has given us a gift.
We can, see then, how the practice of giving gifts at Christmas time actually seems to fit the celebration. Of course, each year brings criticisms of the commercialization of Christmas, endless advertisements, and extreme spending. But it also brings a challenge to us to be attentive to the needs and desires of those around us, to aim to be selfless and intentional in our love for others. This third week of Advent may seem stressful at times as we purchase and wrap gifts, plan special menus, and organize gatherings. But these preparations are not necessarily a distraction from prayer. When we do these preparations with real love for that sweet child Jesus and out of love for those around us, we truly immerse ourselves in the rejoicing spirit of Gaudete Sunday.