Rejoice, the Lord is near!
Advent is a penitential season, although less so than Lent. Hence the Liturgy is more subdued. There are no flowers, the Gloria is not said and purple vestments are worn as a sign of our repentance. Three of the candles on the Advent wreath are purple, and last Sunday we heard St John the Baptist calling us to repentance to prepare for the coming of the Lord.
But this Third Sunday of Advent, we lay aside the penitential purple, and use rose coloured vestments instead. Flowers are restored and a rose coloured candle is lit on the Advent wreath and we are exhorted to rejoice, because now the Lord is very near. The Introit or Entrance Antiphon and the Second Reading for today’s Mass which are taken from St Paul to the Philippians 4:4-5 expresses this: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed the Lord is near.” The Latin word for rejoice is ‘gaudete’, and hence this Sunday is also known as ‘Gaudete Sunday’.
But does this rejoicing because the Lord is near refer to His present nearness or to His Second Coming? The answer is it refers to both, because both are a cause for rejoicing. But how can we rejoice “always” with all the troubles, the pains and trials of life? We know we can’t always rejoice and always be happy, but we can rejoice because the Lord is near right now. He is with us always and He’s with us especially in our troubles and trials, whether it be illness, financial problems or whatever. Did He Himself not say, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Yes, our sufferings can be blessings if we see God’s hand in them and accept them in faith and trust, and surrender ourselves to His perfect Will. That’s what the saints did. If we practice doing this in small things, offering up the little pains and annoyances of day to day life, we will find it easier in the big things. This has tremendous power with God. We can’t choose not to feel terrible, but we can choose to trust in God when we do. Remember, God is all powerful, all loving and all knowing, and even if we can’t see it right now, our trials can be blessings in disguise if only we can believe it in faith. This is the peace of God which St Paul says today, “is so much greater than we can understand.”
So we leave ourselves completely in the hands of God. St Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) wrote about this in a poem when she said:
“Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you.
Everything passes, God never changes.
Patience obtains all.
Whoever has God wants for nothing.
God alone is enough.”
Fr Paul Gillham, IC