Drawing near, but not there yet

Are you feeling in the pink this week?

It’s Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, and the vestments and liturgical colors are in the pink.

OK, technically it’s rose, not pink. Rose is the liturgical color of rejoicing. The Third Sunday of Advent is also called “Rejoice Sunday,” because the readings remind us to rejoice. The very first reading this week (from the prophet Zephaniah) begins: “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!”

We are over half-way through Advent, and Christmas — the coming of the Lord — is drawing near. So everything reflects the joy of anticipation — even the pink candle on the Advent wreath.

Not only the readings and prayers tell us to rejoice. There are the songs, such as “The King of Glory” or the chorus from the ancient hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” reminding us to “Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come ….”

Part of the joy this week comes not from being in the midst of a holiday season, but from anticipating the joy that is to come. In all the rush of the holiday season — shopping, cleaning, baking, sending cards and attending holiday pageants and choruses and Christmas parties — it’s sometimes hard to feel joyful as much as it is to feel harried. That’s why the church uses the Advent season to remind us of something: we aren’t there yet.

Not being there yet is why we don’t see any Christmas decorations or any evergreens – besides that Advent wreath. The hymns aren’t Christmas carols. The crib is not up yet and shouldn’t even be present. (Although if you see a stable, empty manger or farm animals anywhere, that’s fine. They are waiting, too.) We are anticipating Christ’s coming, not yet celebrating it.

If we have special events, they will be an Advent prayer service or extra times for reconciliation. There might be Vesper services, complete with Advent hymns.
If there are preparations for the holidays, they deal with cookie baking (to make care packages that bring joy to those away in the service), Advent trees (so cards can be sent to shut-ins or gifts bought for children of prisoners) or meals planned for shelters.
The anticipation of Advent reminds us that joy is coming and to wait for it. The preparations we are busy with relate to helping others experience that coming joy, feel that nearness of God’s love made flesh.

As Paul told the Philippians (in this Sunday’s second reading): “Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.”

Kasten is an associate editor of The Compass and the author of multiple books.