How to Get the Gaudete (Joy) Out of Advent

How to Get the Gaudete (Joy) Out of Advent

Can you believe we just lit the pink candle and it’s already the third week of Advent?

Advent, of course, means “coming.” It’s a time set aside for the Bride (the Church) to prepare herself for the coming of the Bridegroom (Christ). The cause of the Church’s joy on Gaudete Sunday (Latin for “rejoice”) is that her Bridegroom is near. He’s coming soon!

Those familiar with my books and seminars know well my repeated refrain that the entire biblical narrative is a story about marriage. Did it ever dawn on you that the first human words spoken in the Bible are words of the bridegroom’s desire for his bride: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” (Gen 2:23)? And guess what the final human words spoken in the Bible are – words of the Bride’s desire for the coming (advent) of her Bridegroom: “The Spirit and the Bride say ‘Come!’ … Come Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:17, 20).

The whole story of our salvation, the whole of biblical revelation, is framed by the desire of the bridegroom for union with the bride, and the desire of the Bride for union with the Bridegroom. And this is what makes Advent, in particular, a time of desire. It’s a time for each of us to learn how to direct our hunger and thirst for infinite love and fulfillment (eros) towards the One who alone can fulfill it.

Christianity is not primarily a religion of law, as it’s so frequently considered. It’s first and foremost a religion of longing. The role “law” plays is simply that of guiding our longing in the right direction. The “whole life of the good Christian is a holy longing,” wrote Saint Augustine. “That is our life, to be trained by longing,” he insisted.

To be trained by longing “means journeying along a path of purification from … the false promises of the infinite that seduce and enslave man,” says Pope Benedict XVI. It’s this call to purification of desire that the world mistakes for the negation and repression of desire. But this purification is not “about suffocating the longing that dwells in the heart of man,” insisted Pope Benedict, “but about freeing it, so that it can reach its true height.” And that “true height” is nothing short of infinite ecstasy in what Scripture describes as the “Marriage of the Lamb” (Rev 19:7).

This is the Christmas story in a nutshell: the Infinite One has wed himself to our finite humanity. This is what we’re preparing ourselves for during Advent. And this is why Advent is a time of desire: the Bride is longing to be filled with the eternal life of her Bridegroom. And so she cries in union with the Spirit of God: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!”

Rejoice (gaudete) for he is coming soon!