“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Paul to the Philippians 4:4-7
The opening antiphon for the third Sunday of Advent begins with this exhortation of Paul to the Philippians, where he implores us to Rejoice in the Lord always. In Latin, Gaudete in Domino semper. This is where this Sunday gets its name Gaudete Sunday. (You can hear this mesmerizing chant here.)
I find myself challenged by Paul’s next line, Let your gentleness be evident to all. As Christmas nears, gentleness is not my most evident characteristic. As a musician and liturgist, preparing for holiday concerts, late nights arranging string parts, preparing liturgies and trying to Christmas shop for a carefully edited list dominates my mind. Rejoicing in the Lord always and gently admittedly doesn’t make that list. It’s at this time that most of my conversations contain the phrase ‘after Christmas’, as if there is some sort of rejoicing normal I will magically awaken to on the morning of December 26.
During Advent, Isaiah reminds us that Christ is the light that dispels the darkness. We can take a look at the colors of the candles as sacramental evidence. The purple or violet candles represent to us not only the coming royalty, but have a penitential quality, or a spiritual cleansing and preparing ourselves to great the morning Son, much in the way we clean our homes before a guest visits. We do not use black candles, because black is the absence of color, of Light. The violet is a darker shade of light. The light of Christ, as an early dawn, is present in the violet. As we reach week three, we see more light entering, and feel an anticipatory joy as we gaze upon the rose and feel the Son rising from its horizon. The hope and peace we celebrate in the first two weeks transform into joy.
In some traditions, the rose is the flower that inspires the songs of the nightingale. This imagery appeals to us, as the color inspires us to rejoice in a sort of song. Florists even associate the pink colored rose with gentleness. Any coincidence that Paul asks us this week of the rose colored candle to let our gentleness be evident to all? The rose color, if we stop for just a moment, can inspire such a gentle song within us. The reason of our busy-ness falls into plain view, and it is the Love to come, symbolized in the fourth week’s candle that becomes our song of Love. There is love to be born this Christmas, we find we’ve been singing it all month. We see there is love in the ink that signs our Christmas cards. There is love in the scotch tape that wraps our presents. Love smiles at the overworked retail workers. This love embraces those closest to us and looks at a lost loved one in a picture frame, as memories stream down faces remembering past Christmases. December is Love. It powers the lights on our homes, and when we place Christ in the manger scene, it is done with the most gentle of all loves. In this we truly do rejoice, and we give our best always that we can. The gentle peace that overcomes us is how the Word becomes flesh at Christmas.
May you feel His Joy this Sunday.