Out go cornucopias and candy corn. In come figgy pudding and fruitcake. Down come autumn wreaths and pumpkins. Up go holly, ivy, and mistletoe. Brown and orange become red and green in less than 24 hours. What accounts for the mad dash to Christmas on the day after Halloween? Two weeks ago we suggested two partial explanations. Retailers eager to recoup the year’s losses fire the starting gun on our race to shop. Homeowners zealous to string lights, set up a tree, and outdo the Joneses hasten its pace. Businesses want to stay in business, and decorators want to admire their tinsel for a good, long while. Both are looking to enjoy the fruit of their labors.
Who can blame them? Aren’t we all looking for a little more delight amid the daily round? We feel stresses at home and pressures at work. We encounter trials and tribulations, detours and disappointments. All of us—friends and family, neighbors and strangers—suffer hardship and heartache. The world, the flesh, and the devil assault us at every turn. Add to this that Advent reminds us of our brokenness, our lostness, our helplessness. The season’s purple candles call us to prepare for Christ’s coming. They also remind us that He came to carry the weight and the wages of our sin. Even for Christians, joyful smiles can seem hard to come by.
The third Sunday in Advent acknowledges the painful reality of the human condition. It admits our need of shepherding toward repentance, wisdom, and transformation. It recognizes that much of our suffering owes to our and others’ transgressions. It admits, too, that the solution to our sin and suffering is the salvation found in Christ. A traditional prayer for Advent III captures these truths this way:
O Lord Jesus Christ, you sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries may likewise make ready your way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient toward the wisdom of the just, that at your second coming to judge the world, we may be found a people acceptable in your sight; for with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, now and for ever.
What’s more—and what our hearts long to hear—the third Sunday in Advent gives us hope. It says that though various darknesses beset us, the Word of God incarnate will one day overcome them all. If the season of Advent bids us look inward, the third Sunday bids us look upward. Advent III calls us to find hope in the midst of brokenness, joy in the midst of pain. It invites us to light the rose candle among the violet. It reminds us that our salvation is nearer today than when we first believed. Some Christians refer to Advent III as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for “rejoice,” and the name comes from the opening lines of an ancient church service for the day:
Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4–7)
Gaudete Sunday is a great reminder to count our blessings, to count one by one all the ways God shows us His love. One way to count them is to make a list. Another way is to make an Advent calendar. Advent calendars mark the days from Advent I to Christmas Eve. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some look like traditional calendars. At least one looks like a life-sized gingerbread house. Some Advent calendars do little more than decorate the date. Others offer invitations to respond: learn a new Bible verse one day, help someone in need the next.
What all Advent calendars do, though, is focus our attention on the time leading up to Christ’s coming. Sometimes, we remember His first coming in Bethlehem. Other times, we look forward to His last coming in glory. Whether we look backward or forward, these calendars help stir anticipation. They also help us mark all the reasons we should rejoice, even in the bleak midwinters of life.
If your family decides to make an Advent calendar part of its holiday tradition, here’s a suggestion. Start this week, designing your calendar with the ten days remaining in Advent, December 15–24. (For a few dozen ideas of how you might make an Advent calendar at home, check out this site.) On December 15, ask your children to name something they’re thankful for, some blessing God’s provided. On December 16, have them name something they’re hopeful for, some blessing God’s promised. Follow this pattern all the way to Christmas Eve.
You may even decide to include your Advent calendar in family devotions. If you do, the week of December 15 might look like this:
The frailty and fallenness of the world and our own souls give us much to be anxious about. We all suffer the slings and arrows of a broken people in a broken land. Outside Christ, we all know what it’s like to live in a world where it’s always winter but rarely Christmas. The third Sunday in Advent, like all Sundays in the season, calls us to look inward, at a heart in need of healing. It also invites us, beckons us, to look outward and upward because our redemption is drawing near. “Soon and very soon,” singer-songwriter Andraé Crouch reminded us, “we are goin’ to see the King.” Go ahead and hang the holly and the ivy. Let us light the rose candle, rejoice, and sing!
Until next week . . .
In case you missed the posts from the other weeks of our Advent series.
Advent I: The Race to Christmas
Advent II: The Gift Under the Tree
Advent IV: When Violet Fades to White
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