3rd Sunday of Advent, December 11, 2011
Time to Lighten Up!
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe though him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
Last Sunday the focus of the gospel lesson was on preparation, on making ready for the coming of the King of Kings. The emphasis was on making a clean sweep of our lives, of cleaning every corner and clearing away every mess in order to be ready. This cleaning process, this turning from all that would separate us from God is the beginning of something new–the beginning of the Good News.
Now it’s time to lighten up–in more ways than one. This Sunday is also known as Gaudete or “Joy” Sunday. Its name comes from the Introit for the day, taken from Philippians 4:4-5 “Gaudete in Domino semper” (“Rejoice in the Lord always”).Similar words are found in this week’s epistle taken from 1 Thessalonians (5:16-24), “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (5:16-18).
This Sunday marks the halfway point of this penitential, reflective season, so the celebrant would wear rose color vestments to signal this lightening of mood. This is why the third candle of the Advent wreath is rose. Like its Lenten counterpoint celebration “Laetare Sunday,” Gaudete Sunday offers a time of encouragement and respite before continuing one’s spiritual preparation for Christmas. Even the psalm appointed for this week is anticipates hope and joy.
In addition to this lighter more joyous mood, we are encouraged to lighten up in another way, to look toward the light of the Son and point to that light. Like John, we as Christians are called to testify to the light. So just what does that mean?
It means allowing the light of Christ to fill those spaces in our lives, in our hearts, and in our congregations that we have swept clean. It means taking seriously our part in the advent of God right now, here on earth, in our own individual contexts. It involves bringing “good news the oppressed,” and binding “up the brokenhearted.” We are called to “proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor”. We are to comfort those who grieve and do justice (see Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11).
Yes, in the Northern Hemisphere the nights are growing longer and the days colder as we move through Advent. Darkness covers the face of the earth, but it is not a forever darkness. The light is coming. Soon the days will be a little longer, and dark will give way to light. Surely so, the dark nights of our souls and the dusk of our despair will be replaced with the light of Christ’s love and grace. Make way for that light to be kindled in your heart. Prepare for it to banish the night. Be ready to point to it, to share it, and to live in it. The light is coming again and again and always. Here comes the Son!
Consider using the Beatles’ song “Here Comes the Sun” as a centering montage for worship. If you don’t have time to create your own visual images, take a look at this version by Nina Simone posted on YouTube.
An Indian proverb says “”You can never remove darkness from this world; the only way to remove the darkness is to light a lamp.” How does pointing to the light of Christ light the lamp that removes the darkness? Share with youth that many religions have festivals that involve light. Christians have Advent, Jews have Hanukkah, and Indians have Diwali. Here’s a link to a website that covers many light festivals around the world. Talk about why light is important. Ask them if they were ever scared of the dark when they were younger. Finish by asking them how they can point others to the light that is Christ.
Talk to children about Gaudete Sunday and what it means to rejoice. Tell them it’s a day in Advent when we “lighten” up, when we can laugh, sing, and celebrate our love of God and neighbor. If you have anyone in the congregation who practices laughter yoga, invite them to show the children how it’s done. Tell them that even as we “lighten up” we can look for and point to the light of Christ.