Editor's Note: Each week of Advent, Eric D. Huntsman will share the scriptures and carols that his family uses in our celebration of Advent. Whether you choose to actually observe Advent yourself, we hope that these scriptures will provide you with a source of meaningful reflection this Christmas season.
In contrast to the exuberance of the modern Christmas season, historically Advent was a solemn preparatory period devoted to meditating upon the coming King. But because the message of the angels to the shepherds was one of “good tidings of great joy,” the third Sunday of Advent was devoted to the theme of joy, reminding Christians that the Christmas message was, in fact, one of rejoicing. In fact, the traditional name of this day was 'Gaudete Sunday,' from the Latin word for “Rejoice!”
To contrast this Sunday from the others, some Advent wreaths use a pink- or rose-colored candle rather than a royal purple one as in other weeks. However, I also like to see in the color of this candle a solemn reminder of Jesus Christ’s coming Passion, the pink of the candle reminding us of the blood that he would shed, much as the red berries of the holly represent Christ’s blood and death even as its green leaves celebrate his everlasting life.
Once the first two purple candles and now the pink candles are lit, we start with scriptures that center on the joy of the gospel message. But we end with one from the last night of Jesus’ mortal life that illustrates how joy often comes after sorrow:
Perhaps the most joyful scene in Luke before the actual birth of Jesus is the happy meeting of Mary and her relative Elizabeth. Accordingly, I suggest that after discussing the joy of the Christmas season, families read the account of the Visitation, concluding with Mary’s inspired song, the Magnificat, from Luke 1:39–56.
“Joy to the World” is probably the most obvious choice for a carol to sing on the third Sunday of Advent, but I also like “The Holly and the Ivy” because of its combination of Christmas and Passion images.
Eric D. Huntsman is an associate professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University and is the author of "Good Tidings of Great Joy: An Advent Celebration of the Savior's Birth" published by Deseret Book.