Yesterday we had a glorious and joyful day as our curate Beth was ordained to the priesthood.
The church was packed, the hymns were great, the prayers were heartfelt, all of the various vestments were beautiful – one Roman Catholic man who attended said to me “You Episcopalians always have the best costumes,” the Holy Spirit was present in a powerful and palpable way, and the Church was renewed as we gathered to ask God to make a new priest.
None of this happened by magic; there was a lot of hard work and preparation on the part of many, many people for Beth to get to this point and for All Saints’ to get ready for the service and celebration.
The journey to ordination is really an Advent journey because it is full of waiting, and full of preparation, just as in Advent we wait and prepare and pray for the coming of our Lord and Savior.
But in any times of waiting - for plans to come to fruition, for hopes to be fulfilled, for dreams to be realized - there are ups and downs; there are moments when you think the thing you are waiting and hoping for will never come to pass; and then there are times when you can almost see or touch or taste what you long for, and your spirits soar with joy.
This Third Sunday of Advent is a day focused on joy.
The themes in our Scripture readings and Psalm all reflect joy in the nearness of God and in the fulfillment of God’s plan and purposes.
In the Middle Ages the liturgy on the Third Sunday in Advent began with a chant whose opening lines in Latin were “Gaudete in Domino semper” – Rejoice in the Lord always.
And so the day is sometimes called Gaudete Sunday (Rejoice Sunday) and we light the pink candle on the Advent wreath, and in some churches rose-colored vestments are worn rather than purple or blue, and this year we have beautiful and joyful flowers at the altar – all to remind us that the Lord’s coming is imminent, and that is cause for great joy.
At the reception yesterday a number of people asked me who would be preaching today – whether it would be Beth or me.
When I told them that I was to be the preacher they asked if had prepared my sermon yet, and I said no; but then I joked that what I was going to do for a sermon was to stand up and read through the parish directory and then say “You are all blessed.”
And it’s true – we are all blessed in this Advent time.
We are blessed by the nearness of Christ, we are blessed by the coming of God’s Kingdom, we are blessed with the joy of the Spirit, we are blessed by our love and support of one another in this parish community, we are blessed that God calls each and every one of us into mission and ministry – lay and ordained alike.
I mentioned earlier that at the ordination service the church was full.
Those of you who were here know that the procession alone included close to seventy people – from the acolytes and choirs, all the way back to the Bishop.
We had intended to save seats for all of the participants, but as the church began to fill up there was no obvious place for people to sit except in the pews designated for the visiting clergy.
And that meant that some of those priests had to go and sit elsewhere, finding open seats scattered in the congregation – and that’s actually a very good thing, because it’s a reminder that in the mission of the Church we all do the work and ministry of Jesus, all of us together.
We all pray and work and wait and hope for the coming of God’s Kingdom in all its fullness – lay and ordained together.
To be Christians, to be the Church, to be followers of Jesus means that all of us together are the People of God, the community of the baptized – and we are blessed in our identity and in our baptism.
The joy of this Third Sunday of Advent, this Gaudete Sunday, is the joy in knowing that we will soon celebrate the coming of Christ at Christmas.
And it is also the joy in knowing that the Lord is near now – in our hearts, in our actions, in our relationships, in our community of faith, in our hope and work for the fulfillment of God’s purpose.
The French priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who was also a philosopher and a paleontologist, once said: “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”
In saying that he didn’t mean that human life is not full of sorrow and pain; nor did he mean that if we experience suffering that we are somehow apart from God.
But the joy of God is stronger than suffering, and more true than sorrow and pain; at the most fundamental level of reality is the joy of the Lord - the joy that comes to us in the birth of Jesus at Christmas, the joy that comes in being loved by God, the joy that we know in being embraced by our brothers and sisters in faith.
It is all of this joy and blessing that we hold and experience and celebrate on this Sunday.
Rejoice in the Lord always! Thanks be to God! Amen.
Victoria Geer McGrath, December 12, 2011