My friends, the 3rd Sunday of Advent, known to most of us as, “Gaudete” Sunday, comes from the Latin meaning, “rejoice.” Prior to the 2nd Vatican Council, the four Sundays of Advent had a somewhat different meaning than today. In those days, the Advent wreath candles were purple, meaning “penitence” with a pink one to designate Gaudete Sunday, meaning that Christmas is almost here, and we can now switch from a penitential mode to one of rejoicing.
A little more of the back story now, to help us understand where we are today. In those pre-Vatican II times the liturgical colors for Advent and Lent were purple to signify times of penitence. With the 2nd Vatican Council, when St. John XXIII “opened some doors and windows” to let the fresh air of the Spirit in, all the Seasons of the Church Year, along with many other areas of Church practice and ritual were looked at to see if indeed the “signs and symbols” were saying what the true meaning of each was.
The example of making the Seasons of Advent and Lent quite similar was examined and found wanting. Thus, Advent’s liturgical color became blue, which symbolizes royalty, more so, creation, and is in deference a bit to Mary, Jesus’ earthly mother.
I have written and spoken before of the importance of the rituals in the Catholic church and of how I have always found them so meaningful for establishing the focus for each Season of the Church Year. That is why I am so irritated by the practice of the last 15 years or so of reverting to the use of purple for Advent instead of blue as, in my mind and others, it simply “muddies the water” in clearly understanding the meaning of this season.
This of course can be linked to the 28-year long papacy of John Paul II who did not agree with many of the changes of Vatican II that brought “fresh air” into the Church, and spent his long years, “at the helm,” taking us backward.
An interesting fact that I wanted you to be aware of is that three years ago when I wrote about this same issue—the ritual color for Advent, church supply catalogs offered blue and purple candles as choices. Today, those same catalogs offer only purple candles for Advent wreaths. Curious, but we will leave that for now.
This Advent, I am participating in an on-line retreat with Jesuit, Dan Schutte. It is wonderful! The retreat is comprised of a 15-minute reflection by Dan for each week and each reflection concludes with him singing one of his own musical pieces. As he sings, there is a changing backdrop of different people and other aspects of creation—and quite beautiful!
I am a bit behind, having only done the first week, but already his theme for Advent is clearly all about, “joy” –nothing about, “penitence.” He speaks of the great love of God, or as I am fond of saying, “over-the-top” love for each of us. He reflects on Jesus’ words, “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.” A cause for joy? I think so!
Isaiah, in today’s 1st reading speaks of joy—in fact, he uses the word, “joy” 5 times in this reading. The 1st part of this passage is all about, “beauty” –all that our God has given us to “enjoy.” Isaiah goes on to say that when the Messiah comes, much good will accompany this one, “those who are lame will leap like the deer,” and so on…
James, in the 2nd reading is speaking about the Second Coming, as these first followers of our brother Jesus, thought that his coming would be sooner rather than later. He instructs them, his readers, “to be patient.”
I will skip over the notion of the Second Coming as I feel there is merit in staying at the crib for a while to learn the lessons it has to teach us, which we will be exploring as time goes on. James’ advice, of “being patient” is good to reflect on so that we don’t hurry too fast to Christmas and beyond as the hierarchy of the Church seems to do, or at least, confusing the messages.
The Advent time of waiting has many “jewels” that we shouldn’t miss. There is the beautiful story of our sister/mother, Mary of Nazareth to reflect on—a woman, strong, resilient, compassionate, who said, “yes” to God for all of us. Unfortunately, the hierarchy of the Church gets caught up in “sin” and “sinful” humanity in the December 8th “feast” day of the “Immaculate Conception,” which basically states that Mary was conceived without original sin and at the same time, eliminates Jesus’ humanity—if Mary is without sin, then she is not human, pure and simple. Why my friends, would Church fathers do this? –of all the beautiful and wonderful character traits that they could lift up—why, pray God, this one?
And the simple answer is—to control the story. When the seemingly “wise men” of the Church discovered, sometime in the later 19th Century that women weren’t merely, “the receptacles” for new human life, but actually contributed equally as the men did to that human life, Mary had to be declared without sin to become the first home for the Christ Child.
Such a statement makes me wonder how much these men of old and into the present have ever really studied who our God is, and why God came among us! Our God does not think as badly of us as we and our leaders seem to.
Jesus, in fact, states in Matthew’s gospel today just what his Abba God believes. Jesus is lifting up John the Baptist, saying, and I quote, “I solemnly assure you. History has not known a person born of woman greater than John the Baptist. Yet the least born into the kin-dom of heaven is greater than he.” What is he saying here? Basically, our brother Jesus is saying—no one is greater than John and in fact, everyone is!
This is one of those two-sided, deeper than the surface statements Jesus makes throughout Scripture, and to me, it says, we are all, basically equal in God’s eyes, loved, appreciated, worthy, and wanted.
Dan Schutte says it like this, and I paraphrase, God made each of us in God’s image and each of us hungers—deep down, with an unquenchable human desire for love. We try to fulfill this human need in many different ways, he says—some good and some, not-so-good. We are all aware of some of the not-so-good ways—food, alcohol and other drugs, power, and control over others, and we all know the things we turn to in time of need. And of course, this is about abusing any of the above-mentioned things.
Intellectuals, scientists, and the like will name, “something greater than us,” stating simply that humans seek fulfillment in this “greater someone or some entity.” Spiritual folk speak of “God” as this greater entity that each of us move, instinctively toward.
Dan continues saying that “God hungers for us as much as we hunger for God. God and we complete each other.” Then he formulates the question that we may be internally asking, “Are you saying that God longs for me?” His response, filled with emotion, “Absolutely!”
Now, such a god sounds quite wonderful to me—an intimate, loving God who wants only good for me, and not bad. It was such a God who chose, out of “bigness of heart” to send Jesus, “not to save us,” but to let us know how much we are continually, “longed for.” I would guess this is why Jesus wept over Jerusalem shortly before his death—because the people there and us by extension, just didn’t get it!
A final question for this 3rd Sunday of Advent—a Sunday of Joy—why is it so hard for us humans to believe in an intimate God of love and caring and in the musical selection of Dan Schutte, Beyond the Moon and the Stars, [One] “who chose to dwell with us, for no reason other than love? Advent, Schutte continues, calls us to joy, everyday and seems to be saying that we need to be more concerned about the good that is all around us—in people and the rest of creation, and then all the religious language about sin and unworthiness simply won’t matter because it rings, untrue.
Friends, I believe in a God who “lifts us up,” not one who “pulls us down,” and when our Church hierarchy doesn’t get the message right, I become angry, and saddened. The rituals and rites and liturgical colors of our wonderful Church are meant to carry us through the Church Year, from beginning to end, something like the following:
- Advent prepares us for a God who is continually “coming to us” –creating and re-creating, and the color for this action is blue.
- Christmas-time all the way to Epiphany is a time to rejoice in how much our God loves us and the color here is white/gold.
- Lent reminds us that we don’t always get it right and calls us to repentance and a desire to do better and the color for this is purple.
- Easter-time is once again about rejoicing in God’s, over-the-top love for us and the color is white/gold.
- And finally, Ordinary Time, which covers the greatest section of time in the Church Year calls us to the hope of being our best selves, following the way shown by our brother Jesus, and the color for these actions is green.
All of the rituals, colors, signs, and symbols were originally put in place and freshened up during the 2nd Vatican Council for a reason—to make following Jesus all the more meaningful. To ever use any of the above for power and control over others, or to keep them, “in place” is simply wrong!
So, my friends, today is all about, “joy!” Let’s try and keep that focus. All of our Advent preparation, amid the sometimes rush should be about, “a quiet joy at first, that continually grows through the four weeks of Advent. Advent is a rich time as it draws us to the crib and all that we can learn there—that is why there are 12 days of Christmas! Amen? Amen!