"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17).
The third Sunday of Advent marks a pivotal change in the liturgical season of Advent, Fr. Jeffrey Kirby told Fox News Digital.
Kirby is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish in Indian Land, South Carolina, and host of the daily devotional, "Morning Offering with Father Kirby."
This day is also known as "Gaudete Sunday," said Kirby. In Latin, "gaudete" means "rejoice." Its name comes from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians, in which Paul tells Christians to "rejoice always."
The letter is believed to have been written by the Apostle Paul around the year 51 A.D., says the website Bible Study Tools.
"The whole of the Advent season is about preparation. It reminds us to ready ourselves and our souls to encounter God and undergo a judgment of our lives," said Kirby.
Advent, said Kirby, "can be a time for renewal and rejuvenation in grace. It can be a blessed time to amend aspects of our lives and draw closer to God and to one another."
The third Sunday, however, "marks a shift in the Advent season," he said.
On an Advent wreath, the pink candle is lit on the third Sunday, and it is one of the two times of the year clergy have the option of wearing rose-colored vestments.
The remaining candles on the wreath are violet or purple, a color traditionally associated in the church with penance and mourning.
While the first part of Advent is centered on the call to prepare for Christ's second coming, "the second portion of Advent, inaugurated by Gaudete Sunday, is the preparation to celebrate the Lord’s first coming as our Savior and Redeemer," said Kirby.
With "joy" as the theme of the third week of Advent, it is important to define just what this means in a Christian context.
"In the Christian spiritual tradition, pleasure pertains to the body, while happiness is the result of virtue and a nurturing of the moral health of the soul. But joy — joy above all others — is a fruit of the presence of the Holy Spirit," said Kirby.
Joy, he said, "is the sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s presence allows people to truly rejoice, without such rejoicing being a futile exercise in utopianism."
He added, "Christians are not Pollyannas. Christians do not wear rose-colored glasses. Believers see the hardships of the world. They suffer the brokenness of a wayward world. Believers know betrayal, heartache and adversity."
But while Christians "experience the fallenness of the world," they "choose not to allow such fallenness to steal their peace or joy," he said.
"Even in the biblical admonition to rejoice, the apostle is acknowledging the evil of the world. And yet, in the realm of such evil, he calls the Christian believer to look at the things that are above and to keep the focus on the good things," said Kirby.
"He calls us not to quench the Spirit, but to rejoice in the Spirit."
In Latin, "gaudete" is a plural command, something Kirby said is "no coincidence."
"If we are going to rejoice, then we need one another," he said. "We live to love and we thrive when we give and receive love generously. Joy cannot exist without love," he added.
"If we are to fulfill the command to rejoice, then we must faithfully live the call to love."
The love of God, said Kirby, "matures and enriches our own incomplete understanding of love," and "elevates us and our capacity to love."
"By accepting the love of God and experiencing the joy that comes with it, we are able to give love to others and to share our joy with them," he said.
And although there are many reasons to be miserable in a fallen world, as well as "many things in life that want to steal our joy," humanity has the ability to choose to be joyful in spite of everything, he indicated.
"We can resist the allure of gloom and choose to revel and rejoice in the Spirit," he said. "With eyes wide open, and knowing the darkness and evils of our world, we can nevertheless choose joy and show a believer’s boldness by laughing and rejoicing, knowing that no hour of evil will ever take the day or overcome the dawn."
Added Kirby, "We can celebrate the goodness of life and delight in the triumph of grace over all adversity. We can rejoice."
He also said, "Joy is a gift that must be cherished and lived. We were not made for misery. We were created and redeemed by God to rejoice, and to rejoice always."