The traditional theme of the Third Sunday in Advent, noted in your Advent bags, is Joy. That’s why the third Advent candle is rose-hued instead of the more somber purple, a visual reminder that we need a joy fix in the midst of a more reflective time. Really?!! Would that ALL the candles were pink! “Not only my feet Lord, but my hands and head too please!” The Roman Catholic title for this Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, retains the Pauline command tone in the Latin, “Rejoice in the Lord Always” which opens the worship. In its various expressions the term joy appears some 270 times in Holy Scripture. Both the Hebrew simchah and the Greek chara, interestingly, are feminine in gender, and both stem from philological (look it up dear readers, stay with me!) roots meaning to rejoice, celebrate, hold a festival (or, in good Episcopal-speak, “hospitality!”) and be glad. Chara is embedded in the Greek eucharistia, to give thanksgiving, obviously from which we derive the title for the act of making Holy Communion in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, or Holy Eucharist. In other words, church, party like you mean it with Jesus!
Both terms are used with volition throughout scripture, active and dynamic in experience. In other words, joy for us believers is never, ever simply a feeling which comes and goes, or a disposition solely dependent upon our current state of mind. God forbid! No. Joy is a deeply rooted inner conviction, a gift received in worship and in celebration, a lived daily experience regardless of exterior circumstance. Joy is activated coming towards the Lord, marking harvest-time both autumnal and spiritual, receiving the Kingdom of the Heavens here and now, or encountering the Risen Christ. I love the descriptors accompanying joy, exponential multipliers which intensify God’s joy. In Deuteronomy and in John’s Gospel, our joy is completed by listening to God: the Johannine Jesus assures His disciples at the Last Supper, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” In Nehemiah 8:10 (one of my lifetime bible verses since I was young), the Jerusalemite governor records that the joy of the Lord is our very strength; during times like this I look to Nehemiah for wisdom to live through challenging times. The Sage highlighted the intensely personal experience of joy in Proverbs 14:10, “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.” Amen. And most familiarly, the angelic messenger announcing to astonished shepherds in that Bethlehemite pasture, “Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy to all people,” the very heart of our Christmas gospel proclamation. And Luke well remembers this descriptor as the evangelist repeats it in the final sentences of the gospel, as he narrates the disciples after Jesus’ ascension returning to Jerusalem filled with great joy. The promise to the shepherds is fulfilled in the hearts of the disciples. Has it been fulfilled for us?
- Great. Completed. Full. Strength. Celebrate. Party. Thanksgiving. The Gaudete Sunday vocabulary is replete with energetic, volitional language activating God’s gift of joy. Quite simply, have you received, interiorly and consciously and intentionally, the good news of this great joy?! If so, thanks be to God and let’s ask for our spiritual hands and head also! If not, or if not for awhile, or if misplaced or forgotten or lost, then would you ask God today for this unique, interior gift? To come close to God is to know this joy!
- The Psalmist says, “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes in the morning!” (Psalm 30:5) Can we, together, take a morning moment in our prayer corner and rejoice over God’s great blessings, provisions and many graces to us through the rest of Advent?!
- What one experience, moment, memory or place fills your body and mind with unrestrained joy?! Can you re-visit that joy during Advent? In-person? In reflection? Electronically even? In a journal? I’m a bit selfish with my joy stashes, and receive great benefit from visiting them often. Give it a try!