The Third Sunday in Advent is called “Gaudete Sunday” which means “Rejoicing/Joyful Sunday.” This is because our fathers in the faith knew that learning the practice and discipline of waiting and longing could result in a joyless people. Waiting for the Lord shouldn’t be joyless, but this Sunday is a liturgical memorial of this fact. This Sunday we consider joy and the city of God.
Isaiah 52 is a call to a city to wake up and get ready for a celebration, to put on strength and beauty (Is. 52:1). The city sold herself into slavery and went into exile (Is. 52:2-3), but Jerusalem needs to wake up because God is performing a new Exodus, God is coming back (Is. 52:4-6). It is a beautiful thing when you see the news of victory coming down from the mountains, specifically the message that your God has won and is coming (Is. 52:7). When the watchmen see it, they will shout and sing and celebrate in the ruins of the old city because Israel is coming home (Is. 52:8-9). Like the Exodus of old, God will bear his holy arm for everyone to see, and Israel will be escorted out of the dungeon of exile by God Himself (Is. 52:10-12).
A Wedding Party
Isaiah pictures two locations: those back at the ruins of the city and those enslaved in a foreign land coming home. While we expect that those being escorted home are thankful and joyful, the emphasis in this prophecy is on the joy of those waiting for the good news, getting ready for the celebration. But we could picture the whole scene like a wedding. But it’s somewhat different than our traditional weddings: The old ruins are like the bride standing, waiting getting ready for the groom to arrive with the rest of the wedding party.
The Joy of being the Best Man
In John’s gospel, we read about some of John’s disciples who are confused or distraught about the crowd gathering around Jesus (Jn. 3:26). The controversy is over “purification,” which means they were likely arguing about whose baptism counted (Jn. 3:25). John says that a man only receives that which is given to him from heaven, John had already testified that he himself was not the Messiah, and finally, you can tell who the bridegroom is by where the bride is standing (Jn. 3:27-29). The fact that crowds are going out to see Jesus fills John with joy because he’s the best man and gets to watch (Jn. 3:29). This means it’s not about John; it’s about Jesus (Jn. 3:30).
Paul takes some of these same categories but blows them up into a cosmic scene. In Isaiah the locations were Israel and Babylon. In John, John the Baptizer was the Messenger preparing the way of the Groom. He called the bride to wake up and be ready because the Groom was coming. But what was surprising for many was that the Groom came so briefly. What became clear was that Jesus was born, lived, died, and rose again in order to make it possible for the world to prepare for His final, permanent arrival. In other words, Christmas and Easter occurred so that the final, true Advent could occur at the end of history. Left in our ruins, left in our sin and misery, we are idolaters, who worship our belly gods. We worship ourselves, our appetites (Phil. 3:18-19), and we could never rescue ourselves, never even prepare ourselves to be rescued. We need God to come before us and be our rearguard (Is. 52:12). Jesus is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end (Rev. 1:8). Jesus came in order break the dominion of idols, and by His death and resurrection, we became citizens of another country, another city: heaven (Phil. 3:20). But this is not because Jesus came and died and gave up on this world. This is so we can actually get the city ready for His final arrival. The incarnation was God’s decisive preliminary advent. By His blood, our bondage to sin and death was broken so that we can make this world ready for Him. The Great Commission is the church’s assignment to get the whole world ready for when Jesus comes to stay, the wedding of heaven and earth (Rev. 21:2). This announcement is beautiful, and this announcement fills us with joy overflowing.
Conclusions & Applications
We are the watchmen, the messengers, and the best man all rolled into one. We are the bride who have been given the word that the Groom is coming and called to get ready. Gnostic evangelicals think that means “saving souls” and “going to heaven.” Socialists and do-gooders don’t believe in a real heaven and a real Jesus who is coming to transform our lowly bodies into glory. But God has announced His own coming by sending Jesus the first time. We are the watchmen who have heard this good news. Therefore, our job is to rejoice and get the city ready. This means working for like-mindedness (Phil. 4:1-3). This means prayer (Phil. 4:6). This means pursuing beauty and justice in all things, and imitating godly men and women (Phil. 3:17, 4:9). This means living contentedly and generously (Phil. 4:10-14). But preeminently, it means rejoicing in the Lord (Phil. 1:18, 26, 2:16-18, 2:28, 3:1, 3:3, 4:4, 4:10), and this joy drives us to mission: getting our neighborhood, our city, our nation, the whole world ready for the Wedding of the Ages.