This Sunday is traditionally known as “Gaudete Sunday” because the Church’s traditional opening song begins with the word, ‘Rejoice!’ A rose-coloured candle in the Advent wreath strikes this note of light and joy. It is good psychology as well as good spirituality: as we approach the darkest part of winter, a word of joy is appropriate. Yet St Paul gives the main reason for our joy: the Lord is at hand!
The coming of the Lord is one of the main themes of the Advent season. So far we have focused on his second coming in glory at the end of time to judge the living and dead. We can echo the Early Church’s cry (using an Aramaic word, “Marantha!” that can mean both, “Come, Lord!” and “The Lord has come!”). But as we get closer to Christmas, the emphasis begins to shift more to the second meaning: his coming in our flesh when he was born at Bethlehem.
That coming was no less glorious than his final one will be, but it was of a different order. At Christmas we celebrate the glory of divine humility. God’s Son did not disdain to be born as one of us and to share our human condition, including even death. Almost all religions teach that God is present to his creation in love and mercy. But the Gospel of Christ says much more: God became human and lived among us. Thus God showed the greatness of his love by sending his only Son. And Christ came not only to live with us but to die and rise again to heal our wounded world. That is why we rejoice: the nearness of God demonstrates his love.
Those two comings, the final one in glory and the incarnate one in the life and ministry of Jesus, remind us that he is indeed Emmanuel, a name which means “God is with us” (Matthew 1.23). It is the chief ground not only for joy but for hope. That is why we can ask in confidence when, as Paul says, we “…make our requests known to God”, in prayer – the Lord is truly with us in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Collects for the 3rd Sunday of Advent
O Lord Jesus Christ,
who at your first coming sent your messenger
to prepare your way before you:
grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries
may likewise so prepare and make ready your way
by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
that at your second coming to judge the world
we may be found an acceptable people in your sight;
for you are alive and reign with the Father
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
God for whom we watch and wait,
you sent John the Baptist to prepare the way of your Son:
give us courage to speak the truth,
to hunger for justice,
and to suffer for the cause of right,
with Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
We give you thanks, O Lord, for your nearness to us;
kindle in us the fire of your Spirit
that when your Christ comes again
we may shine as lights before his face;
who is alive and reigns now and for ever. Amen