Amidst the darkness, Rejoice!
The Third Sunday of Advent is traditionally called Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of Joy. It is named after the first word of the entrance antiphon, “Gaudete in Domino semper,” meaning “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4-5).
Although the liturgical tone of Advent is sombre, it is not penitential as with Lent. During Advent, the music and Church interiors are sparse in order to symbolize our inner emptiness and yearning for the Lord who alone can satiate our infinite longings.
And yet as we wait, we know that the Messiah has already come into the world and will come again at the End Time. Advent is thus the season that commemorates the Lord’s first coming and anticipates his second and definitive coming.
We therefore rejoice because despite the darkness that envelops us we find strength in his abiding presence and ground our hope in his promised return.
Authentic Christian joy does not deny the darkness around us or spiritualize our suffering. Christian joy recognizes and embraces all that is negative in our lives and our world. And places its confidence in the Lord who will “bring glad tidings to the poor… heal the broken-hearted… and proclaim liberty to captives” (Is. 61:1).
Oregon Catholic Press sent me a copy of the 40th anniversary edition of Gentle Night, the CD of Advent and Christmas songs by the St. Louis Jesuits. I first heard this compilation during the latter years of Martial Law, when as a student activist I contemplated entering the priesthood. “A Time Will Come for Singing” by Dan Schutte, a dear gentle friend, has always been my favorite track. The second verse goes this way:
“A time will come for singing
When trees will raise their boughs,
When men lay down their armor,
And hammer their swords into plows,
When beggars live as princes,
And orphans find their homes,
When prison cells are emptied,
And hatred has grown old.”
Since I first heard this moving Advent song, Martial Law has ended, the Marcos dictatorship has been toppled, the Edsa I peaceful revolution has brought much hope. Decades of work at restoring our democracy and decency have come and gone. But today, darkness seems to gather and thicken, snuffing the sparks of hope and light within. How easy to succumb to despair. Are we back where we began or do we find ourselves in a worse place? Can we still muster energy to condemn brutalities or have we grown accustomed to terrorism and cold-blooded murder as the new normal? Can we still muster zeal to remain vigilant and protect our democratic institutions or have we grown cynical and have we catapulted to anti-democratic forces beyond our control?
To honour Advent is to hope. To commemorate Advent is to wait for the Lord as we labor to do our share of building his kingdom of justice, peace and harmony. To celebrate Advent is to rejoice for amidst the dark and gloom, “Indeed, the Lord is near” (Phil. 4:5).