By the Most Rev. Fred Hiltz.
“Rejoice!” That’s the call of the Readings appointed for this Third Sunday of Advent.
The prophet speaks of great rejoicing in the ministry of The Servant of God, comforting all who mourn in exile, clothing them with mantles of praise, giving them garlands of flowers instead of ashes, anointing them with oils of gladness.
The Lord’s Anointed One is in their midst, restoring what has been desecrated, building up ancient ruins, repairing cities ruined through war. Righteousness and peace are springing up before all the nations. All the peoples have great reason to rejoice!
The Herald John rejoices in the coming of The Lord. He was that one sent from God to bear witness to that light which would enlighten all peoples. Jane Williams writes “John knew and embraced his role. He understood the job of the herald- both its importance and the truth that it was necessarily transitory.” He had no hesitation in applying the words of Scripture to himself. He knew himself to be that voice crying out in the wilderness, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people…prepare in the desert a highway for our God”. John’s entire ministry was one of stirring within the people an eager anticipation of the Messiah, whose coming was now immanent.
The apostle Paul calls the Thessalonians to “Rejoice!” He reminds them that must never despise the words of the prophets. They must abstain from all evil. They must fast to all that is good. They must pray without ceasing and give thanks continually for every blessing in Christ. This call to rejoice is echoed in Paul’s other letters, notably his one to the Philippians. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Rejoice, and again I say Rejoice!” (4:4)
It is this theme of rejoicing for which this Sunday has long been designated as “Gaudate Sunday”. “Gaudate in Domino Semper” – “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
In many places the candle kindled for today is rose colored, signifying a quiet transition from the holy penitence of Advent to date to holy anticipation for the great joy which is about to come.
“God of hope”, reads the Prayer over The Gifts at the table this morning, “renew us in the joy of your salvation.”
“Merciful God”, reads the Prayer after Communion, “ May this Eucharist free us from our sins and fill us with ending joy.”
Historically this very date, December 17th marks the beginning of praying the ancient “O Antiphons” based on the titles given the Messiah – Emmanuel, Wisdom from on High, Great Lord of Might, Rod of Jesse’s Stem, Key of David, Dayspring from on High, and Desire of Nations. Each of these glorious antiphons are followed by a rousing summons to rejoice!
Another song which many of us have come to love is Eleanor’s Farjeron’s Carol, “People, look East, the time is near.” Sung with quickened pace it draws us into the great joy we are about to celebrate- the mystery, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “of God lying in the manger.” From home and hearth and table, to seed and nest and light, from peace and valley and all creation rejoicing, Eleanor’s images are quite lovely… Love, the Guest, is on the way!
Love, the Rose, is in the way!
Love, the Bird, is on the way!
Love, the Star, is on the way!
Love, the Lord, is on the way!
The joy of this Carol is the joy of all who have loved Christ’s Appearing, apostles and martyrs, holy men and women of every generation, our own forbears in the faith, all who brought us to faith, and all who journey with us in faith.
It is the very joy for which blessed Anselm of Canterbury (1093-1109) prayed. as you leave the liturgy this morning you will receive a copy of the full text of his prayer. For now here is an excerpt.
“This is my prayer, O God:
May I know you.
May I love you,
so that I may rejoice in you…
may I progress day by day until that joy comes to fullness in me.”
What a lovely prayer for this week…
Full text of the prayer:
“This is my prayer, O God: May I know you, may I love you, so that I may rejoice in you. And if in this life I cannot know, love and rejoice in you fully, May I progress day by day until that joy comes to fullness. May knowledge of you advance me here, and there be made full; may your love grow, and there be full; so that here my joy may be in great hope, and there be may be full in reality. Lord, through your Son you commend or rather counsel us to ask, and you promise that we shall receive that our joy may be full (John 16:24). I ask, Lord, for what you counsel through our wonderful Counsellor (Isaiah 9:2).
I shall receive what you promise through your truth, that my joy may be full. Faithful God, I ask to receive it that my joy may be full. In the meantime, may my mind meditate on your promise, may my tongue speak of it. May my heart love that joy, May my mouth speak of it. May my soul hunger for it, may my flesh thirst for it, may my whole being desire it, until I enter into the joy of my Lord, God three and one, and blessed, who is blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 1:25)