This past Sunday began the third week of Advent, and it is traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday, or the Sunday of rejoicing. Many priests and deacons wore rose-colored vestments or stoles Sunday. It also means that we will begin to see the daily readings shift from a kind of apocalyptic eschatological focus on the second coming to a centering on the first Advent of Our Lord, as evidenced by today’s Gospel where Jesus said that no man born of woman is greater than John the Baptist, but that the “least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he” (cf. Matt. 21:23-27). Beginning Tuesday, the readings and psalmody of the Church will begin to focus more clearly and obviously on the coming of the Messiah in the first Advent, and those of us who celebrate the Divine Office each day will chant, sing, or say the “O Antiphons” which highlight the titles of the Messiah. O Sapentia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Rex Gentium (O King of Nations), and O Emmanuel.
Back at the beginning of Advent, I wrote here at Life At 25 that the social focus on Christmas that seems to begin earlier and earlier on the calendar every year threatens to rob us of Advent if we do not deliberately take the time to slow down and prepare our minds and hearts for the coming of the Lord, for what Christmas is really about for a Christian. That is the purpose of Advent from a liturgical and ecclesiastical perspective. Advent is on our Church calendar as a time which allows us to begin to focus on the coming of Jesus Christ into the world, and to prepare our hearts, souls, and minds for what that means. That is why the color of Advent is purple or violet, a penitential color. Advent isn’t Lent, the spiritual character of the two seasons is different, but in both of these important seasons of the year we are called to prepare ourselves to celebrate and commemorate important events in Christ’s life and ministry.
This Sunday, however, you may have noticed that things were just a bit different. The candle on the Advent wreath was a rose color, and the priests and deacons in our parishes may have worn rose colored vestments as well. Hymns and songs were joyful, and the readings, including the Gospel about John the Baptist’s disciples asking whether Jesus is “the one to come,” are filled with a sense of messianic anticipation. All of this is because now the Church begins to recognize more fully that the Lord is near and that the celebration of the Incarnation is upon us. If the secular world so often jumps the gun on Christmas and gives people “Christmas burnout,” how can we know when the right time might be to begin openly displaying our Christmas spirit more fully? Well, if we are to take the Church’s advice per the liturgical calendar, that time is now.
The tone and tenor of the Church’s daily liturgy now changes, especially beginning tomorrow (December 17th) through Daytime Prayer on December 24th. Readings, responsories, psalms, antiphons, and prayer intercessions all begin to reflect the imminent coming of the Messiah. Christmas-the season, not a single day, is drawing near. If you haven’t quite felt like the time was right to be in the Christmas spirit just yet, you have been right up to this point, but now that all changes…now ’tis the season to get in the Christmas spirit. The Savior of the World is coming, and next week we will (in the words of the Invitatory Antiphon for December 24th) see his glory.
It is important to keep in mind that just as we must be reminded to truly “live” Advent before celebrating the Nativity of the Lord, that celebration does not last one day, but the Christmas Season traditionally last for 12 days, and this year it extends liturgically until January 12th, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. We’ve been building up to Christmas together during this season of Advent, so there is no reason to let our Christmas spirit end at the end of the first day of Christmas on the 25th.