By Emily Schmid
I remember being a child anticipating my birthday or a family trip. The days leading up to those events were agony because of the extreme desire I had to be in those moments now! The feeling of excitement for what was to come was juxtaposed with the feeling of distress for what seemed to be the long days of waiting. Anticipation is an interesting emotion because it can have both negative and positive undertones. Anticipation for surgery most likely brings stress and anxiety, while anticipation for the arrival of a new baby brings happiness. This double meaning is what gives Advent a penitential quality. We suffer and do penance as we wait for Christmas, but Advent differs from Lent in that the excitement we feel for the coming birth of Christ is full of joy and hope.
Parents, in an effort to ease this suffering for their kids (and themselves), will buy Advent calendars or make paper chains that children can undo one day at a time, giving a little reward to ease the pain of having to wait four whole weeks for Christmas. These small moments of joy help us wait out the season and direct us toward the big celebration on December 25th. As a good parent, the Church also gives her children these anticipatory gifts to walk us through Advent, reminding us that waiting is only for a little while.
One of these gifts is Gaudete Sunday on the third Sunday of Advent. Gaudete means “rejoice” and references the entrance antiphon for this Sunday taken from Philippians 4:4-5, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.” We read this same verse in the second reading for the day, emphasizing a break in the penitential atmosphere of Advent to rejoice that Christmas is a few short weeks away. Gaudete Sunday encourages us in our waiting and reminds us to remain joyful in the promise of God for what is to come.
Advent is a season of penance and preparation. Just like families plan and prepare birthday parties or vacations, the Church prepares for the coming of Christ. This preparation time can seem tiresome if we forget the reason for this short season. As we sit with the feeling of eager expectation for the birth of Christ, I invite you to find little moments of joy each day to rejoice in what is to come. And in our waiting, always remember that, indeed, the Lord is near.