Advent Reminds Us to ‘Rejoice Always’

User’s Guide to Sunday, Dec. 13, the Third Sunday of Advent

We rejoice on the Third Sunday of Advent.
We rejoice on the Third Sunday of Advent. (photo: Shutterstock)

Sunday, Dec. 13, is the Third Sunday of Advent (Year B). Mass Readings: Isaiah 61:1-2A, 10-11; Luke 1:46-50, 53-54; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28.

This is the Third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday, the Latin word gaudetebeing the imperative call to “rejoice” at the nearness of the coming of Christ. Our first reading is from the prophet Isaiah, who tells us of the One to come. He is anointed by the Lord and clothed with the “robe of salvation” and “a mantle of justice.” He rejoices “heartily in the Lord,” for God is the “joy” of his soul. 

This joy in the Lord is continued into the Responsorial, which this week is not from a Psalm but from the Gospel of St. Luke. Here, the Blessed Virgin Mary responds to her cousin Elizabeth’s greeting, saying, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” We then come to the second reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians; the opening words are, “Rejoice always.” 

Why ought we rejoice? In the Gospel reading, the priests of Jerusalem ask St. John the Baptist if he is the Christ or the prophet Elijah returned. He assures them he is neither, but there is “one who is coming after me.” This one is, of course, Jesus, and his coming is precisely that for which we have been preparing during Advent. 

The readings this week repeat in various ways our responsibility to rejoice, our obligation to be joyful as the coming of our Savior nears. We do not often think of celebration in this way. Typically, we associate orders and obligations with tasks we do not find so welcome. 

Regulations to rejoice seem counterintuitive, if not outright contradictory, but this is a repeated command this week. We are called to rejoice, to “in all circumstances give thanks,” as St. Paul says today. 

So why the repetition? 

We may not feel like rejoicing because, on a practical, human level we may be anxious that Christmas is approaching. We may not feel prepared with the “right” gifts or with gifts at all. On a spiritual level, we may lament that we have not used the time of Advent well, missing our chance to read the book we wanted or to start the spiritual practice we desired. We may then associate the coming of Christmas with a kind of failure on our part.

More poignantly, these joyous times can be intermingled with an oppressive sense of grief and loss at loved ones no longer with us. Or there can be a deep pain at a ruptured family relationship that endures despite this being a time when families should feel ever closer.

In the midst of these possible anxieties and pains, today’s repeated call to rejoice is an invitation not to paper over those pains but to remember that the Lord has all of us in mind as he draws near. He sees that future when death is no more and when family hurts will be healed. So, “rejoice always,” for God — who so loved the world that he became a child — knows us and our pain and hopes to draw it up into himself. He will, as Our Lady says in the Responsorial, “fill the hungry with good things.” 

And for that, we should rejoice.