Today is Gaudete Sunday which means that the official liturgical color is pink. Thank God. Finally, church for girls!!!!!!!
Gaudete Sunday is a Sunday for joy and for rejoicing placed right in the thick of the season of Advent-- a season of anticipation and of repenting. We talk lots about Advent as a season of hopeful anticipation, we talk less about Advent as a season of fasting and repentance. It is as if to say that even in the midst of our anticipation of Christmas, we are not ready yet for Christmas, in the midst of our expectation of the birth of Jesus, we are not ready yet for Jesus to be born. The House is a mess-- literally and metaphorically-- so we had better get our affairs in order before this baby comes home with us. Gaudete would grab us by the shoulders and say-- stop vacuuming,, aren't you excited that Jesus is coming??
Two things can be true at once -- we are not ready to welcome Jesus again into this world and how exciting that he is going to get born again anyways. It is this funny paradox of what we do in Christianity -- we know that we can never be fully prepared and yet we are tasked with preparing anyways. And across the wide spectrum of Christian traditions, there are churches and church leaders that fall everywhere along dichotomy between Repentance and Rejoicing. There are the folks for whom the entire picture of Christianity is a picture of Sin and our grappling with Sin and there are folks for whom the entirety of the Christian life is a story of beauty and of joy. Well, the picture only of beauty and of joy is hard to justify given, well, everything that is happening in the world and has ever happened in the world. The story only of sin and grappling with sin is a story that you could get away with, if you tried hard enough and plenty of Christians and plenty of pastors do try to get away with it. The world is a dumpster fire and with a little tweaking, framing this whole world as a threshing floor is a story we could get away with.
But it just doesn't work. The beginning and the end of the story of people of God is joy. Repentance is not who we are, repentance is not God's design for us. God's design for us was Eden, God's design for us is the Body of Christ, God's design for us a reconciled world, God's design for us is togetherness, friendship, care, joy. Repentence is part of the story along the way but it is not the beginning of the story or the end of the story.
All of this reminds me of a little film I watched recently called Barbie. Work with me here-- Barbieland at the beginning is Eden in Genesis 2, Barbie and Ken are Eve and Adam, and everything is perfect in Barbieland until the very notion of suffering is introduced, they have eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and they are cast out into a world that they are stunned to find is beset with suffering, just pressed under the thumb of patriarchy and capitalism and mean-spiritedness. They try to go back to Eden and find it ruined by the very knowledge of evil. And there is a moment where Barbie is face-planted on the ground and she says "this is the lowest I've ever been-- emotionally and physically" and a lot of Christianity would have us stay there. It is not possible to go back to a time before we knew about patriarchy and horses, we cannot go back to a time where our job is just beach. Our job now is beach and resisting patriarchy, and if that makes you want to go back and watch BBC Pride and Prejudice for the seventh time I get it. But that is not where Barbie's story ends and it's not where God's story ends. God's design for us is Barbieland. And whether that is old and simple and easy Barbieland, or new and complicated and hard-fought Barbieland, whether that is the old Eden or the new Eden, it does not change the fact that contentment, togetherness, friendship, joy is what we are made for. Repentence, existentialism, ennui, depression-- these things are not our birthright, they are merely the means of getting where we're going, the Christian life's waystations.
So, no, Gaudete is not a reprieve from the winter of our repentence so much as it is a reminder of from where we've come and a foretaste of where we're going. And it is by the very knowledge of suffering that joy is a triumph, it is by the very knowledge of suffering that God's promise of joy is all the sweeter, it is by repentence-- as a means, but not an end-- that togetherness feels all the truer, sweeter, and more doable.
So by all means, repent, pray, fast, self-flagellate while the gettins good, but when you need to, please imagine me or Ruth Handler or perhaps Billie Eilish grabbing you by both shoulders-- don't you know what you were made for? Don't you know what you were made for? Joy. Joy.