In Advent 1, we talked a bit about weaving the new with the familiar or the new with tradition this Advent season. Of the four Sundays in Advent, Advent 3 is perhaps the one most rife with traditions in many congregations. Gaudete Sunday gets its name from the opening words of the Latin introit antiphon for the Third Sunday in Advent in the Roman Catholic Church, “Rejoice (Gaudete) in the Lord always.” It is also sometimes called Rose Sunday because it was appropriate for the celebrant of the Mass to wear rose-colored vestments. Today, this tradition is reflected in many Protestant congregations through the lighting of the pink candle on the Advent wreath.
No matter what your community calls this day, it is often the Sunday when we set aside some of the seriousness of Advent and bring out the joyful music. Many congregations choose to do a Christmas cantata or an all-music service on this Sunday, reflecting both the spirit of Gaudete Sunday and the practicalities of scheduling a music-heavy service before congregants start going out of town to be with family on Christmas. This is especially true this year, as Advent 4 and Christmas Eve land on the same day, but more on that next week. No matter what your traditions are for Gaudete Sunday—do them! Revel in them. Use them to breathe life into worship. Between now and next week, we will experience the longest night of the year. So, let the songs of joy ring out. Let the altar reflect the abundance of God’s goodness and light. Fill your prayers with grateful praise for God’s faithfulness. Take time to delight at being together, whether online or in-person.
Yet, take note, Gaudete Sunday comes before Christmas Eve. That’s not to say that you resist telling the story of Christmas, especially if that is your tradition. Rather, embrace this opportunity to invite your congregation to sit in the tension of the now and not yet. In Advent, we anticipate the arrival of the Christ child who we know is coming to remember how to wait for the fulfillment of God’s kin-dom on earth as it is in heaven. A fulfillment we are still waiting for.
So, in the midst of all the traditions, let Gaudete Sunday also be a practice session, a rehearsal for living with fierce joy in the midst of the tension of the now and the not yet. On your altar, in the worship space, or even on the screens, balance light and darkness, depth and brilliance in the visual elements. In both the Gathering and the Sending Forth, call the congregation to exercise fierce joy now, to witness to the Light now. Active, faithful waiting doesn’t postpone joy until the end of the story. So, if you’re planning on the musicians leading you through Gaudete Sunday, wonderful! But also, don’t skimp on opportunities for the whole congregation to practice fierce joy together—to read, pray, sing, and bless one another as a people who, in the midst of all that is wrong in the world, choose to live the good news together.
Dr. Lisa Hancock, Director of Worship Arts Ministries, served as an organist and music minister in United Methodist congregations in the Northwest Texas and North Texas Annual Conferences, as well as the New Day Amani/Upendo house churches in Dallas. After receiving her Master of Sacred Music and Master of Theological Studies from Perkins School of Theology, Lisa earned her PhD in Religious Studies from Southern Methodist University wherein she researched and wrote on the doctrine of Christ, disability, and atonement.