“GAUDETE!” ADVENT REJOICING in the MIDST of SORROW

The season of Advent, and Gaudete Sunday in particular, invites us to rejoice. In Year C, our readings on Gaudete Sunday include a passage from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Philippians in which he exhorts his readers, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again, Rejoice! . . . The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:4-5). Saint Paul’s call for rejoicing in this passage might be characterized, I suggest, as a call for Advent rejoicing. We are to rejoice because “the Lord is near.” He is coming (Advent means “coming”) and our rejoicing is characterized by anticipation of his coming. Advent rejoicing is a joyfulness that reaches into the future – to the Lord whose coming we eagerly expect.

Advent rejoicing is different from Christmas rejoicing. In the season of Christmas, we rejoice that the Lord has come, that he is Emmanuel, God-with-us, and that he remains with us forever (see Matthew 1:23, 28:20). At Christmas, we rejoice in the presence of the Lord Jesus in the event of his birth and into our present. In Advent, we rejoice in the coming of the Lord Jesus that is still in our future.

The call to Advent rejoicing, I suggest, is addressed in a special way to people who are experiencing illness, tragedy, and sorrow. For those people – and we are all those people at some times in our lives – it can be hard to find joy in the present. Christmas rejoicing remains important. We need to know that the Lord Jesus it with us in the midst of our suffering. But it can be hard to feel that joy. The feelings of disappointment, anger, loss, and sorrow can be overwhelming.

Advent rejoicing takes us beyond our present. We take comfort in the promise of God, not only to be with us in the midst of our sorrow, but to take us beyond our sorrow. We rejoice that the Lord Jesus is coming to deliver us from sorrow. This deliverance is promised in countless scriptural passages. Take, for example, Jesus’ words in his “sermon on the plane” in the Gospel of Luke, “Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh” (Luke 6:21). Consider also Saint Paul’s assurance to the Corinthian community, “This momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Confident expectation of that laughter and that glory in a future beyond weeping and affliction is the stuff of Advent rejoicing.

We can be confident in God’s promise of joy beyond sorrow because God is joy beyond sorrow. In Jesus’ “high priestly prayer” in John 17, he prays to his Father for his disciples. He says to his Father, “everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine” (John 17:10). He prays “that they may share my joy completely” (John 17:13). He likewise prays to the Father, “Keep them in your name,” “Consecrate them in the truth,” “That they may all be one as you, Father, are in me and I in you,” “That they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me from the foundation of the world,” and “That the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them” (John 17:11-26).

Love, truth, unity, glory, and joy express who God is and what Father and Son (and Holy Spirit) share “from the foundation of the world.” Jesus prays that all of what he eternally shares with his Father should likewise be shared with his disciples. All that God is and shares from “the beginning” (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1) until “the end” when God is “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:24,28) is the promised inheritance of “those who belong to Christ” at his coming (1 Corinthians 15:23). 

Advent rejoicing is an anticipation of the joy that Jesus has with the Father and the Holy Spirit from all eternity and wants to share with us. Advent rejoicing is rooted in the faith that recognizes in the Father, Son, and Sprit “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last” (Revelation 22:13). Advent rejoicing doesn’t spare us from weeping or affliction or from illness, tragedy, or loss. We will know sorrow as Jesus knew sorrow. Advent rejoicing can coincide with sorrow because it is deeper than sorrow. It is rooted in our faith that God’s joy is before and after and above and beyond all sorrow.

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