We have considered the way that our cultural calendars are often at odds with the church calendar and how this is especially the case during Advent. And it is especially the case when we consider the theme of Advent which is repentance and preparation. Laurence Stookey calls it a, “little lent.” In support of this, the church has historically appealed to the ministry of John the Baptist who came to prepare the way for the birth of Christ. John’s message was fundamentally a message of repentance. Thus we have prayed with the church,
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Likewise we pray,
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
The themes of Advent appear in these Advent prayers: repentance and preparation. In a surprising twist, this particular Sunday of Advent is sometimes called “Gaudete Sunday.” Gaudette is a Latin verb and it is an imperative. It means, “Rejoice!” Why would the church refer to a Sunday as “Rejoice” in the context of repentance and preparation? Stookey’s words are helpful here:
Even as the Baptizer demands strict repentance, we can be glad. This is a necessary corrective to the common view that repentance is a chore and righteousness a means of removing all of the fun from life. Here is recognition that the things usually trusted to bring human happiness are untrustworthy, even deceptive. Their pleasures are short-lived and frequently backfire on us. True joy lies elsewhere—in the work of God. This is an important caution at a time when Christmas happiness seems to depend on gala parties, gaudy decorations, superficial holiday greeting cards, and musical ditties about a red-nosed reindeer. Even pious reminders that “Jesus is the reason for the season” may fail to confront us with the joy of repentance, of turning around and heading in a new direction of patient obedience to God, in whom alone there is true freedom and peace (Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, 125).
As we consider the levity that surrounds us during these days of the year, let us also be reminded that our true joy lies in the work of God and that very often this joy is found in repentance and faith. May God grant to us this true freedom and peace; and may he grant us to know the joy of repentance.