Gaudete means rejoice. This third Sunday of Advent, called Gaudete Sunday — designated by a color shift from violet to rose in the Advent wreath candles — is the signal that it’s OK to start acting more Christmasy. Up until now, Advent tradition has dictated that we be reverent and expectant without being too boisterous, or fixated on Christmas itself. That has created some tension between the religious holiday and the world around us. But starting with Gaudete Sunday, we’ve got the green light to start getting excited.
Of course, family holidays are problematic for many people. I’ve written here before about the challenges of celebrating with a family that includes drastically different political and/or religious beliefs. I’ve also written about the particular challenges of attending family holiday events when a parent is an alcoholic or addict. But this Sunday’s name, Gaudete, is the first Latin word in its traditional liturgy; the full line is: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Always. Not just “rejoice in the Lord because things are good” or “rejoice in the Lord when something great happens,” but “rejoice in the Lord always.”
Those opening lines of the service and a reading in today’s Revised Common Lectionary are taken from Philippians 4 and the full passage — not all of which is said on Sunday — offers some very powerful counsel in the face of the prospect of less than perfect family gatherings:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9)
As a long-time contemplative with experience in both Eastern and Western traditions, I’m always struck by how powerfully mystical these paragraphs sound, and how this advice could be found as easily in the Baghavad Gita or teachings of the Buddha: “Do not worry about anything”; “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds.”(What a wonderful passage this would be with which to practice lectio divina!)
Even more powerful and significant, especially in the face of challenges, is the second part: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”
When confronted with negative ideas and emotions, the temptation often is to wallow in them — to bemoan the wickedness of the world or the hopelessness of your case. The world around Paul, as he was writing these words, was certainly hostile. He was in prison! In preaching his message of Good News, he was opposed both by his own native Jewish people and by the occupying Roman Empire. And yet Paul says, put your thoughts on what’s good and beautiful and keep doing the right things and you will have peace.
Some days it seems like 90% of the viral posts on the internet are about some individual or group going out of their or its way to be offended or outraged by something another individual or group has done. And as I’ve been saying for years, news outlets trade mostly in fear, making watching the news an exercise in inviting anxiety. All of it wasted energy.
This is something on which mystics across all faith traditions agree because it is a fundamental universal Truth: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things… [and] peace will be with you.”
There is plenty that is beautiful and good out there. From stories about and experiences of acts of kindness, to love and support from and to those around you, (to pictures of cute animals,) the world is filled with things that show the power of Love. Put your attention on those things. I know it lacks ironic hipster detachment and the cynicism of intellectual superiority. It’s naive. But that’s what’s beautiful about it. “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
So, this Gaudete Sunday, and each day, let us say, Rejoice! “Again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone.”
You can see all my Advent-themed pieces together at patheos.com/blogs/philfoxrose/tag/advent/. Please share this link, or just one to my blog, with anyone you think might be interested. Thanks!