During my Christmas homilies, I often invite people to share their ‘Christmas word’ – so be ready! Given the struggles of our nation and the personal distress of so many affected by the smoke-filled air these past weeks, we may all need that Christmas ‘word’ to lift our spirits and remind us of the bigger realities.
This 3rd Sunday of Advent focuses on an ‘Advent word’ as we light the third, rose-coloured’ candle in our Advent wreath. We celebrate Gaudete Sunday, Latin for ‘Rejoice’, reminding us of the foundation of the Christian journey, the Joy that must be evident in the Church. Pope Francis emphasises Joy in his Apostolic letters – The Joy of the Gospel, The Joy of Love, and so on.
The Advent Liturgy puts us in touch with the spirituality of the season as we prepare for Christmas. The simplicity of the liturgy is obvious; our celebration is ‘dressed down’. Besides the violet vestments, the Glory to God is omitted and the penitential rite is replaced with the lighting of the Advent wreath and the accompanying prayers, sometimes with a response, such as Come Lord Jesus.
Some of the prayers of the Mass are taken from older liturgical books and the two Advent prefaces are linked back to the 5th century. The first is used until 16 December and recalls Christ’s incarnation as he humbly came into our midst and our watching for his return in glory. The second preface, used from 17 December until Christmas Eve, traces the line from the prophets through Mary and John the Baptist.
We can find inspiration in the Advent people – Isaiah, John the Baptist, Mary and Joseph – as they prepare for the coming of Christ. The successive readings from Isaiah Chapters 2, 11, 35 and 7 set the scene for the Saviour’s coming, describe the kind of world he will seek to establish and the renewed vision of our humanity we will recognise in Jesus.
Advent opens us to the ‘refreshment’ and ‘renewal’ of the Christmas celebration – two more ‘Christmas words’ perhaps, expressing God’s optimism for each of us in our human living and his gift of hopefulness that we so badly need. On this Gaudete Sunday, St Paul’s words from Philippians 4 should ring in our ears: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near.’
As Church we wait together, companions in prayer across many cultures. Even amid the commercial and cultural scream of ‘Christmas!’, Christians attend to the Advent call to a time of stillness and waiting, silence and reflection. To quote Bishop Robert Morneau of Green Bay:
‘Hushing is a noble art. It is that grace and discipline by which we quiet the soul and draw it beyond the multiplicity of events and the immediacy of a thousand voices into a centre, a still point, where the one thing necessary is found: peace – that peace willed by God, the gift of the Holy Spirit.’