The third candle of Advent will be lit this Sunday. By tradition it is the pink candle, marking what is known at Gaudete Sunday in the high churches. Gaudete is Latin for joy and Gaudete Sunday signifiies the half-way point in the Advent season of waiting. Especially this year our Advent preaching has focused on the lectionary texts from the prophets and the words have been strong words of anticipation that look more to the yet to come second advent of Christ than to the already first advent of the Savior. The day of the Lord is described as “terrible” and “bitter.” “Who can endure the day of his coming?” Malachi asked in last Sunday’s text.
This week’s Gaudete, joy, Sunday reading is from Zephaniah, and at first things don’t seem to get much better. Speaking of coming judgment against unfaithful Jerusalem, God speaks through the prophet saying, “That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness.” He condemns injustice and disobedience, “Woe to the city of oppressors, rebellious and defiled! She obeys no one, she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the LORD, she does not draw near to her God.”
Only arrogance or foolishness assumes that we are exempt from God’s judgment.
So where is the joy in this season? When does Santa come to town? There is no Santa, but there is great joy. The preaching text for this Sunday of joy is Zephaniah 3:14-20, and I will focus on verse 17 in particular:
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.
Divine judgment against human folly and hubris is deserved and is coming. But as C.S. Lewis puts it in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, “there is a deeper magic from before the dawn of time.” Having defied the execution ordered – and carried out – by the witch (who has brought "always winter, but never Christmas" to Narnia), Aslan explains to Susan and Lucy that when a willing victim who has committed no treachery is killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table (upon which the evil witch has executed the Lion) cracks and Death itself starts working backward.
On the cross Christ died in our stead and death was disarmed. Indeed, God is mighty to save.
Why joy in these dark days of Advent? Where joy in the prophets’ words of judgment? This is our God who has come and will come again. A God who is mighty to save, a God who takes great delight in us, who quiets us with his love, who rejoices over us with singing.