The clergy may don rose-colored vestments at today’s Mass – one of only two times in the year that they do so. Rose represents joy (gaudium in Latin); hence the Third Sunday of Advent is also known as Gaudete Sunday. What does joy have to do with the season of Advent? Today’s Scripture readings show us.

In the first reading, Isaiah prophesies a time when the people of God will flourish with joy and abundance. When Isaiah wrote this, the Northern Kingdom of Israel had fallen under Assyrian rule while the Southern Kingdom of Judah was facing the threat of destruction by the Babylonians. In other words, the present moment was hardly a joyful situation! Rather, the people were in a situation of devastation, fear, and despair.

Similarly, the penitential violet of Advent hardly has space for joy, at least on the surface. But the Church teaches us that joy is certain to come, and that hope is a glimpse of rose in a sea of violet. Advent, rightfully looking forward to the coming of Christmas, proclaims that the sorrows and deprivations of the present moment will yield to joy: “The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song.” When the Messiah comes, we “will see the glory of the Lord.” Advent points us to the infant Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. He himself is the reason of our joy.

Jesus gives us joy through concrete signs of healing and redemption. When the disciples of John ask on behalf of their imprisoned teacher if Jesus is the one promised to come, he replies with a list of signs: the blind regaining sight, the lame walking, the lepers being cleansed, the deaf hearing, and the dead being raised. These very signs were prophesied by Isaiah so many years ago as evidence of the arrival of the promised Messiah. The coming of our Healer and Redeemer into the here and now of our brokenness is truly a reason to be joyful.

Beyond the here and now, our Healer and Redeemer promises us greatness in the Kingdom of Heaven. After affirming the person and ministry of John, Jesus tells us that even the least of us can be greater than John the Baptist ever was. The path of being “least in the Kingdom” may not sound joyful to us at all. But this path takes us deep into the meaning of Advent. The active waiting and preparation that characterize this season are done best by emptying ourselves of all sin and self-love so that the Lord can fully enter our lives. When we empty ourselves, we provide space for the joy with which the Lord comes to fill us. Being “the least” is a path to greatness because it gives the most space for the Lord. Like John the Baptist, we must decrease so that the Lord may increase (cf. Jn 3:30).

There are both active and passive ways to empty ourselves. The active forms of self-emptying include the penitential practices of fasting, abstinence, and almsgiving. Advent’s share of the liturgical color of Lent tells us that such practices are very much part of the season. The passive forms of self-emptying entail patient endurance. St. James instructs us on this Advent spirit in today’s second reading. He tells us to be patient with the attitude of a farmer waiting for “the precious fruit of the earth.” James adds: “Make your hearts firm” and “Do not complain… about one another.” Advent waiting includes perseverance in charity toward others. In other words, our self-emptying during this season ought to open us up to both love of God and love of neighbor.

Love of God and love of neighbor lead us to joy. The Catechism explicitly tells us that joy is first among the fruits of charity. When we love God and others before ourselves, then joy naturally springs up. The more we love, the more joyful we become. “Love is itself the fulfillment of all our works. There is the goal; that is why we run: we run toward it, and once we reach it, in it we shall find rest” (CCC 1829).

In catechetical classes, “JOY” is often used as an acronym to teach the right order of priorities in our love – first Jesus, second Others, and third Yourself. If we follow this order, we can be assured that joy becomes the fulfillment of our hope, the path of the least that makes us great, and the source of endurance in hardships. The Church encourages us along this path of charity that bears the fruit of joy. Just as we give roses to our loved ones, the Church gives us today’s rose-colored liturgy as a reminder: Love Jesus and Others before Yourself.

As I perform the ordinary actions of my day, how can I be more patient and spiritually joyful? What am I doing this Advent that will give more space for the Lord in my life? How do anxieties and worries interfere with my peace and joy?

Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 1. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.