Sermon Archives

Sunday, December 17, 2017
The 3rd Sunday of Advent (Year B)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
Rejoice!

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.”
(Philippians 4:4-6)

These words written by Saint Paul to the Church in Philippi while he was imprisoned in Rome awaiting his death, seem to stand in stark contrast not only to reality of his situation, but to our place in the liturgical year, that is, in the midst of Advent. 

On the one hand, with our modern Advent focus on preparation and waiting, the idea of inserting a celebration Sunday into the midst of this season seems a bit odd and out of place.  And yet, we might ask why a reminder to celebrate is even needed, given that Christmas parties and balls begin in the days after Thanksgiving.  Even here at Christ Church we hold our Annual Parish Christmas Party well before Christmas – so much for the 12 day of Christmastide! 

Yet it wasn’t so long ago that Advent was a penitential season akin to Lent.  And so many of us will recall from our childhood that purple was the color of Advent, as it is during Lent, a visible reminder of Advent’s penitential undertones.

It’s within that context, of course, that Gaudete Sunday – “Rose Sunday” as it is often referred to today – finds its beginning and its depth.  The name itself, Gaudete Sunday, comes from those words of Saint Paul I mentioned earlier, words which were turned into a medieval introit to the Latin Mass based on this verse from Paul’s letter:

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, Gaudete!

“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice!”

And so we set this Sunday apart from the other three Sundays of Advent, filled as they are with calls for repentance and penitence, and warnings about the impending return of the Lord at an unknown hour.  Today, instead, we are reminded, visually if not audibly, to turn our focus away from penitence and preparation to celebration – now!  As so, today, we wear rose vestments and light a rose colored candle; in more ancient times, flowers might well reappear within the church, and the Organ would sing again, having been silenced for the duration of Advent.

Yet, this rejoicing and celebration bears a question:  Why rejoice now?  Here in the midst of our Christmas preparations – and all the stress that comes with it! – here in the midst of our preparation and repentance, why rejoice?  Isn’t it a bit early?  Next week, yes, by all means, rejoice, but today?  It’s still Advent! 

Celebration today seems a bit like the pundits proclaiming Hillary Clinton the certain winner of the presidential election a year ago, or Seattle fans celebrating a sure-fire Super Bowl victory in 2015 against the patriots. . . . Rejoicing and celebration will come in due course, but not yet.

Yet, our ability to rejoice today, is critical to our ability to rejoice on Christmas morn.  In some real way, rejoicing today is an important form of our preparation.   In the midst of our hurried lives, made all the more chaotic each day as Christmas draws ever nearer (are the Stockings ready?  Have we bought all the gifts?  Are the cards signed and sent?  What about the lights and decoration up – are they up?  Wait, do we even have the wretched tree, for Pete’s sake?) . . .   

In the midst of all the added stress of Christmas, our ability to rejoice and celebrate now, is akin to tilling the soil of our hearts.  Our ability to celebrate the in-breaking of God’s love on Christmas, is presaged by our ability to celebrate – to rejoice in God – today, here and now, wherever, and whatever the state of our life and the world might be.  You see, if we can’t celebrate in the midst of our preparation and daily life, our Christmas celebrations e little more than an exhausted sigh of relief that it is done – no more decorating, caroling, baking, or repenting – if, by “preparation”, we simply mean do more, decorate differently, and focus on our brokenness.

The call to rejoice forces us to look beyond the Christmas to-do list and to look for things to celebrate.  (Perhaps in place, or at least along side our “to do list” we ought to create an Advent “look for list” – as look for all the reasons to celebrate and rejoice in God even in the midst of these cold, dark winter days.)

This call to “rejoice in God” challenges us to look into our lives, with the expectation that we will find God’s gift already present – perhaps incomplete or bit roughly built, but already there.  Such a deliberate act of rejoicing is a critical step to cultivating a heart of gratitude, a heart prepared to receive God’s gifts – on Christmas day, or June 17th, or December 17th.   

Setting the 3rd Sunday of Advent apart as a day to rejoice and celebrate is a call to deliberate preparation through gratitude.  By preparing our hearts with gratitude in small ways, we deepen our ability to rejoice in grand ways.  To use a rather mundane example – it is hard to celebrate a life of fidelity and companionship, if we do not appreciate and celebrate a day of fidelity and companionship here and now.  And if all that Christmas offers is a respite from the chaos that precedes it, we will miss Christmas all together, for Christmas isn’t a respite from life, but a celebration of God’s presence in the midst of life.

And so it is critical that we spend a day – an hour even – of preparation, not to do anything more, but to celebrating what already is, God’s presence, God’s gift and God’s grace in our lives. 

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice!”

This rejoinder, however, is more than a preparatory call.  It is also, a fundamental statement of our faith.  The call, and our ability, to “Rejoice in the Lord always,” is a reminder that God’s gift on Christmas is not radically new, but rather a fulfillment of God’s ancient desire and way of being amongst us.   Each and every time that we rejoice in God, not just for the grandest of celebrations at Incarnation or Resurrection, but especially for the most common of occurrences – a kind and pleasant word from a stranger, a forgiving hug word from a friend or loved one – each is a proclamation that God is active in our lives for good; that God is present and active in our lives each and every day.

We mustn’t wait to celebrate God on Christmas, as if God has not been present on the days preceding.  Instead, we are reminded, challenged eve, to rejoice today, to remember that God is working for our redemption and proclaiming his love and mercy, here and now, today and every day, thus drawing us closer to the fullness of his glory and the fullness of his love, which will be revealed again Christmas morn. 

So let us heed the wisdom of Saint Paul:  “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice!”