Today is the third Sunday of Advent, also known as “Gaudete Sunday.” I preached during Advent last year, too, and this term sounded rather familiar. So after having gone back through my notes, it was confirmed that I preached on the third Sunday of Advent last year, too. Don’t worry, today’s message will not be a “re-gifting” of last year’s.
But I thought it was important to stay with the theme of this specially designated day in the Christian calendar. So let me reiterate by explaining what “Gaudete Sunday” is. “Gaudete” means “rejoice” in Latin, and the church more specifically celebrates the “nearness of the Lord.” Thus, the phrase, “Rejoice! The Lord is near!” is commonly uttered on the third Sunday of Advent by Christians around the world. Please encourage each other with that greeting right now.
“Rejoice! The Lord is near!” Of course, we know that Jesus has already come and that he is with us. But this shouldn’t take away from the power and encouragement that we can receive from repeatedly acknowledging and understanding this truth. Christmas doesn’t get diminished because Jesus has already come.
May I offer that it is important for us as Christians to repeatedly recount and celebrate the goodness of God. Whether it be daily counting our blessings to remind ourselves to always be thankful, or weekly attending church service to always remind ourselves how much we need to honor and prioritize God in our daily life, or annually celebrating traditional events like today to always remind us that we need God.
And that’s going to be my sermon focus today, that we need God. I believe that the act of “rejoicing because the Lord is near” will take on a more profound meaning when we understand that “we need God.” I’ll elaborate more on this point a little later.
We don’t just simply “rejoice” in Christmas. If it ended there, then we’re left to fill in the blanks on our own, and we end up filling those blanks with all kinds of wrong things. Rejoicing, because it’s the time of year when we get presents, when we get time off of work, when we get to see family and friends, when we get to sing Christmas songs, when we get to fashionably wear ugly sweaters, etc.
Furthermore, I would even say that we don’t just simply “rejoice” in Christmas because “the Lord is near.” That may sound like a good thing to do, and it is, but I don’t want us to stop there either. Because there’s a tendency for many of us to think, “Oh, but I’m already a Christian, and Jesus is already with me.” That’s a dangerous place to be if our thoughts just stopped there, because we could take Jesus’s nearness for granted, and Christmas could become just a tradition.
How happy and excited do you get at the opportunity to spend time with Jesus? How happy and excited do you get when you pray, when you read the Bible, or when you come to church? I’ll be the first one to admit that though there are good feelings involved, “happy” and “excited” are not the exact feelings that I usually have. A lot of times, my feelings are more of “awe,” “urgency,” and “gratitude.”
Let me ask you this. Who is one person you would like to meet more than anyone else in the world? Please take a moment to decide. (ask some people, then pick person A) Now, what if I told you that ______ is on his way to our church right now? He just called me to tell me that he/she will be a little late, that he/she is on the #30 Hankyu bus, and that he/she is on his/her way. How would you feel? (ask person A) How would you feel? (ask some people)
Okay…maybe such a hypothetical situation is not very emotionally convincing. So let’s make it more real. Think of someone you know—perhaps a loved one, a family member, a friend—someone whom you delight in every time you’re together and whom you miss every time you’re apart.
I’m going to pick on Mayu here for an example. Most Mondays and Tuesdays are our lunch date days, because I end my morning work at lunch time and I don’t have to go back to work until the late afternoon. Our routine is for me to swing by home directly after work to pick her up and then go out to lunch together. So we don’t waste any time, I always text message her when I’m almost home.
My text reads, “I’m almost there,” after which she gathers her stuff and leaves the house. The timing is always perfect. Just as I pull up in front of the house, she’s outside. And she always has a big smile on her face. Now, it could be that she’s happy because she’s hungry and finally gets to eat. But I’d like to believe that she’s happy to see me and looking forward to our lunch date.
My point is, we don’t take the presence of important or favorite people for granted. All the more, we shouldn’t take Jesus’s presence, his nearness, for granted. People have a tendency to become desensitized to things that are routine or always there. Let’s not become desensitized to Jesus’s constant nearness in our life. In fact, this is the time to remember to celebrate and rejoice in it.
Earlier, I mentioned that in order to “rejoice in his nearness,” it is important to understand that “we need God.” I believe that the more we understand how much we desperately need God in our life, the more we would rejoice in his nearness.
Here’s another hypothetical example. You’re trapped in a house fire. The flames are roaring around you, and you have no way to escape. And then, you hear the sirens of the fire truck coming. Then, you hear the voice of firefighters calling out your name in search of you. Imagine how happy you’d be upon hearing the sounds of the fire truck and firefighters coming to rescue you.
Last week, I read a news article about a young New York woman who was attacked in the park. She was walking her boyfriend’s dog, a 5-month-old pitbull puppy named Apollo, and she let him off his leash to run around a bit. As she was sitting alone on a bench, she was attacked. But Apollo came running and bit the attacker on the leg, enabling the woman to escape. Apollo eventually let go, and the attacker fled. Both the woman and Apollo were unharmed.
The woman was quoted as saying, “He’s a good boy. I think he saved my life.” “Apollo helped me. He came and bit him in the leg.” “He was protective. I think it would’ve been a lot worse. I wouldn’t have been so lucky.” I can only imagine how happy she must have felt when she saw Apollo coming to her rescue, running and barking.
I hope we all realize and accept the fact that we were all in a similar predicament before Jesus came and saved us. Don’t be mistaken! Don’t think that your life was good to begin with, and it only got better with Jesus. That’s not true. It’s a life or death situation! We were all in big trouble, destined for certain death, and then our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ came to our rescue! That’s why there’s great rejoicing!
I’ll let the Scriptures speak for itself. And if any of us have forgotten or have taken this truth for granted, I pray that you will experience great rejoicing in your heart as you allow these words to remind you.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:1,3-5)
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. (Psalm 40:2)
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins. (Colossians 2:13)
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
During the Christmas season of Advent, and especially today on “Rejoice Sunday” when we “rejoice” because “the Lord is near,” we need to remember that we “rejoice” BECAUSE we DESPERATELY NEEDED Jesus to come. We would all be in really bad shape right now if he hadn’t come. In fact, we would all be dead if he hadn’t come.
So, let’s rejoice! Our Lord Jesus Christ is near! Our Savior has come! We are saved! Rejoice! (pray)