This Sunday marks the third Sunday of Advent, a day traditionally marked with rejoicing. You might wonder why there is a single Sunday set aside for rejoicing in a season that is supposed to be filled with rejoicing! But, as with so many things, there is a story behind it.
Of all the seasons of the Christian year, Advent is actually the newest. And, like Lent, for the longest time, it was a season of penitence: that’s right, the church spent the weeks leading up to the celebration of Jesus’ birth in reflection and repentance. Holy celebrations like Christmas and Easter were prepared for by examining ourselves and ridding ourselves of sin so that we would be fully ready for the birth, or resurrection, of the Saviour.
That’s why the third Sunday of Advent and the fourth Sunday in Lent were traditionally set aside as Sundays for rejoicing amid our penitence. And the traditional colour of rejoicing is pink, which is why the Advent wreath has a pink candle that is lit on the third Sunday.
Because the season of Advent particularly has lost its penitential nature, we have lost the special significance of this upcoming Sunday of rejoicing. We look at the whole season as one of rejoicing! And that’s not all bad, to be sure: we should revel in celebrating Jesus’ birth.
But maybe it’s not a bad idea, too, to remember the history of the season, and examine ourselves. After all, the best way to be ready for Jesus’ coming – and coming again! – is by confessing our sins and accepting the good news of our forgiveness, which comes through that coming Saviour.
Think of it this way; forgive the odd nature of the illustration, but I think you’ll find it will work. Besides getting popcorn and a drink, what’s the one thing you do before you go into the theatre to watch a movie? Come on, admit it: you go to the bathroom. You don’t want to have to miss any part of the movie, so you do your business beforehand so you won’t have to get up in the middle, right?
Think of the penitential aspect of Advent in the same way. We don’t want to be blinded to any part of the celebration of Jesus’ birth by sin. We don’t want our unrighteousness to block our rejoicing in the Righteous One. So take some time in these crazy weeks to void yourself of whatever keeps you from a full-out love relationship with the Lord whose birth we celebrate.
But this Sunday, make sure you rejoice.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4.4-7, NIV).