The four Sundays in Advent are marked in church by the lighting of candles. Three purple, the colour of Advent, one pink to mark Gaudete Sunday, and the big central white candle to mark Christmas, the day when, to quote the intercessions for the day, ‘heaven is come down to earth, and earth is raised to heaven’. The day when God became human, just like us.

Gaudete Sunday is the third Sunday of Advent, and was marked yesterday. Gaudete means ‘rejoice’ – and its name is taken from the opening line of the introit for the day. It is a bit like a ‘looking forward’ Sunday. Each of the Sundays invites us to think about those who paved the way for God’s salvation of the world in sending His Son to us; the Patriarchs, people like Abraham and Isaac, the Prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah and all the Old Testament prophets particularly; the third Sunday (Gaudete Sunday) concentrates on John the Baptist and the last Sunday of Advent is about the most important figure of all, Mary.  A young woman, perhaps not much more than a girl, who was prepared to work with God in a most natural but, at the same time, totally extraordinary way.

Images of Jesus’s birth are all of a gentle, very well-adjusted young woman, sitting placidly gazing at her baby amidst a number of very strange visitors. Was it really like that? Even today childbirth can be difficult, there has only recently been a breakthrough in finding out what causes morning sickness – was that a problem for Mary? Of course there was no gas and air, no labour wards, no sterile packs – and not even a proper bed for Mary as she prepared to give birth, and there are millions in the world who still face the same challenges today.

I am totally in awe of Mary, a woman sanitised by two thousand years of history. How courageous she was – not only to face the physical effects of pregnancy and childbirth, but to accept the social stigma that would have gone with her being unmarried and ‘with child’ as we are politely told. She did this for God and for us. She is an amazing and powerful role model for me and I hope I have the courage to answer God as she did.

I like this extract from the poem written by Caryll Houselander, ‘The Circle of a Girl’s Arms’

‘Into our hands
Mary has given her child,
Heir to the world’s tears,
Heir to the world’s toil,
Heir to the world’s scars,
Heir to the chill dawn
Over the ruin of wars.

She has laid love in His cradle,
Answering for us all.
‘Be it done unto me.

[Jo Spray]