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How Much Longer? Are We There Yet?

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Canonry of St. Leopold - published on 12/11/14

Rejoice in the Lord always for He is come and He's coming soon.

“How much longer?” “Are we there yet?”

With these two questions I plagued my parents on every car ride, every vacation as a child. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. Back then, of course, there were no video games to distract and numb children (or adults) and certainly no televisions in cars, so we talked a lot, and I did a lot of reading and looking out the window and thinking and wondering (not so bad, when you think of it). But, still, the question would come, sometimes from boredom with the trip but more often out of excitement for the destination: “How much longer? Are we there yet?”

My father’s answer was quick, invariable and of absolutely no help; whether our goal was just around the bend or still two states away, he would unfailingly answer my plea to know how much longer with: “An hour, or an hour and a half.” You can imagine how this has played havoc with my sense of time.

Perhaps that’s why I love Gaudete Sunday, this third Sunday of Advent, so much. Because it lets us know quite clearly that we’re almost there! While Advent is not quite the arduous long haul that Lent can (seem to) be, it is, or should be, a period of penance (now mostly forgotten) and also of some serious waiting. But not just of “waiting,” like waiting in a line or waiting on hold; not simply the I’m-bored-and-killing-time sort of waiting which so often fills our days. Advent does more than simply keep Thanksgiving from crashing into Christmas; it makes it possible for us to celebrate Christmas, to open up the gift of its mystery and not just open up the gifts under the tree.

This waiting, then, is not the boredom of a child waiting for a holiday, just as the nine months in the womb is not simply the child’s waiting to be born; it is a time of becoming.

And because of this truth, there is nothing monotonous in the rhythm of Advent’s melody, gentle as it is and hard to discern over the tumult of the world’s at times frenzied, if outwardly cheery, refrains. It shares nothing with passive, plodding waiting. Rather, with its subtle, powerful cadence, growing ever clearer and more poignant, picking up in pace and intensity as we let it move us forward through a deepening longing and a growing yearning until its Christmas crescendo, Advent doesn’t just bring us to Christmas, it transforms us so that we might truly arrive at Christ’s Coming.

And this swelling anticipation of Christ’s advent among us becomes – for a brief moment, and only on this day – visible, unexpectedly visible, in the joyful color of Gaudete Sunday – rose. On only this day (and its counterpart in Lent’s fourth Sunday, called Lætare) does the Church delight us with the gift of seeing rose vestments. And, by the way, they’re not supposed to be pink (although sometimes it can’t be helped)! Pink – pretty perhaps in some circumstances – would be just a tad bit too showy for the dignified, confident but never presumptuous tone of this day, which says “Yes, we are near (or better yet, He is near), but there’s still more to do.” Rose, exuberant but understated, strikes just the right note, not just that the waiting is soon over, but far more, that the joy of expectation is growing and will soon be met with fulfillment.

While the striking color of the day expresses the mind and mood of the Church, it also is the color worn by the priest, or better said, worn by Christ, who takes to Himself this sign of joy – His joy now – that soon He will be with us! To espy the anticipation of Christ for His coming to us adds a new level to our excitement.

The entrance antiphon of the day which sets the tone of the Mass and gives this Sunday its name puts words to this moment’s phrase in Advent’s song:

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