Have you ever wondered why one of the Advent wreath candles is a different color than the others? In the traditional church calendar, the third Sunday of Advent is called “Gaudete” Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for “Rejoice!” We light a rose-colored candle, to contrast with the purple or blue candles used on the other three Sundays of Advent, to represent joy.
In the early church, Advent was a penitential season, much like the season of Lent. New believers prepared for baptism through spiritual practices such as prayer and fasting. Gaudete Sunday was a break from that fast, a time to rejoice in the promise of Christ’s coming as Emmanuel, God With Us.
One of the features of Gaudete Sunday is the use of Mary’s song from the first chapter of Luke. Next week, we will get the story surrounding this song, now known as the Magnificat – that’s Latin for the first word in the song: “magnify”. We’ll hear how Mary sings this song when her relative Elizabeth greets her and calls her ‘blessed.’ This week on the third Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Joy, let’s focus on the song itself:
December 15, 2019
I think it’s curious that we hear about John the Baptist’s doubt about Jesus on the same Sunday we sing Mary’s song magnifying the Lord and rejoicing in God our Savior. “Are you the One,” John wants to know, “or should we be waiting for someone else?” You can read an earlier message on Matthew 11:2-11 and Luke 1:47-55 here.
Martha Spong reminds us that joy and doubt are not necessarily mutually exclusive. I recommend you read her thoughtful reflection on this week’s lectionary readings. May you be released from whatever binds you, or stalls you, or holds you captive, so that your joy – like Mary’s and John the Baptist’s – may point others to Jesus.
Holy Lord, our hearts leap in our chests when we experience your nearness. We cannot help but know ‘the joy of the Lord’ when you are in the center of our lives. But how easy it is, Jesus, to slip into doubt and despair when we take our eyes off you.
Give us the kind of steadfast faith that Mary had when she said, “let it be to me according to your word,” even though she had no idea what she was getting into. Give us the courage to seek you out when our doubts overcome us, just as John did. And remind us, as you did John, that the evidence of your kingdom is right under our noses. You are working through us to magnify your name. Let our joy be complete and point others to you, Almighty God.
December 9, 2018
Here’s the back story: Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age, after the angel Gabriel tells her husband, Zechariah, that this will happen. Zechariah questions the angel’s grasp of reality – they are both long past child-bearing age, just like Abraham and Sarah, or Hannah and Elkanah in the Old Testament. Because he doubts the angel’s word, Zechariah is unable to speak for the next nine months.
Here’s another little detail about Zechariah and Elizabeth you might find interesting: they both come from priestly families. In fact, Elizabeth is a direct descendant of Aaron. But Gabriel tells Zechariah that the child they will have is to be a prophet, not a priest. Continue reading
December 11, 2016
View a video of this sermon here.
Mary’s song, the Magnificat, echoes the song Hannah sang when she brought her son, Samuel, to the temple and dedicated him to the Lord. You may remember that Hannah had been childless, and had begged God to give her a son. When Samuel was born to her, Hannah kept her promise to God, and gave him over to the priest Eli, to serve in the temple. Samuel became the last of the judges, and it was Samuel who anointed Israel’s first king, Saul. Later, Samuel also anointed Israel’s greatest king, David.
When Mary learned that she was to become the mother of Emmanuel, God With Us, she went to visit her relative, Elizabeth, who, much like Hannah, had become pregnant after many years of childlessness. Mary imitated Hannah’s song, while Elizabeth reflected Hannah’s story. Mary and Elizabeth may have been related to one another by blood, but they were both related to Hannah in spirit. When Hannah sang, she prophesied that Israel would one day have a King. Mary’s baby would become King of Kings, and Elizabeth’s baby would be the prophet who introduced that King to the world.
Fast forward about thirty years. Continue reading
Three pots of chili are cooling on the back porch, along with the chicken that will be boned and chopped into bite-size bits to make chicken soup (for those who don’t like chili). Three big pans of cornbread are ready. We have no idea how many people will show up to go caroling tomorrow afternoon, but those who sing will be fed a bowl of something warm. In the midst of all the cooking, a call comes from the hospital’s ICU unit. The mood in our kitchen switches from joy to concern in a heartbeat.
Tomorrow is Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of rejoicing in Advent. Christmas is less than two weeks away, and Mary’s Song beckons, encouraging us to rejoice in God our Savior as we see the many ways God’s Kingdom has broken into our world, turning things right-side-up that were upside down before.
Yet, in the middle of our rejoicing, another voice can be heard: John the Baptist, wondering from his prison cell, “Hey, Jesus! Are you The One? Or should we look for another?” John’s question may come from his own discouraging situation – wasn’t the Messiah, for whom John had been preparing the Way, supposed to overthrow this corrupt pseudo-king, Herod, and set things right? What was taking him so long?
Here we are, in the middle of Advent, and Mary’s rejoicing can swing into John’s concern in a heartbeat.
Then Jesus says, “Look. The Kingdom is right in front of your face. Maybe you are hunting for the wrong thing. This King doesn’t sit in a fancy palace, wearing soft robes. This King is busy healing, caring, sharing good news.”
The Kingdom of God is at hand.