The third Sunday of Advent is traditionally known as “Gaudete Sunday,” stemming from how the introit prescribed in the Roman Catholic tradition begins: “Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete” ("Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice" (Philippians 4:4)).
It’s an opportunity to pause, to recognize how all of the preparation we make during Advent is bounded by joyous expectation. As our Isaiah reading for this week describes, we are walking the Holy Way, and we draw ever closer to again welcoming Jesus into the fullness of our lives. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s always easy to find that joy. There’s a reason that Paul uses the imperative form, “Gaudete,” to command and challenge us to live into it. After all, he was writing the letter to the Philippians in prison, himself struggling to cling to God’s covenantal promise and the joy it offers amid even the darkest times.
The great mystic and teacher Henri Nouwen touches on a similar note when he defines what joy means for the spiritual life: “Joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing — sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death — can take that love away” (The Heart of Henri Nouwen). I think that bears repeating: you are loved unconditionally by our Lord and Savior, and there is literally nothing that can alter that fact. So, whether it is easy, challenging, or somewhere in the vast spectrum in between for you to grasp the joy of this Sunday and this season, know that it is there waiting for you, always. When Jesus comes, he comes in the fullness of our humanity, and rejoicing in that fact means rejoicing with all that we are. Amen.