On the Third Sunday of Advent we are more than halfway through the Advent Season. This Sunday is also known as Gaudete Sunday for the Latin “rejoice.” The prayers and readings today call us to rejoice because the day of the Lord is near. In Isaiah we hear the prophet say; “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.” Saint Paul wrote to the Thessalonians; “Rejoice always.” Let us rejoice as we continue our preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth as we joyfully await his second coming.
The joy that surrounds the preparation for Christmas and the Feast itself is the proper way to celebrate Jesus’ birth and to await his return. However, the reality is that we don’t always have this joy within our heart. This past year has in many ways been a difficult one for us. The Caronavirus suddenly turned our world and our lives upside down in ways we never expected and were not prepared for. We continue to be flooded with news of wars, terrorist attacks and senseless acts of violence. This year in particular we were reminded of the reality of racism that is so easy to be blind to or ignore, and we witnessed the increase violence against churches and religious figures. As one friend of mine repeatedly says, “I never thought I would see these things in my life.” His words are echoed by many of us, and it can make it difficult to experience Joy, Gaudete, in our hearts. Instead we wonder, where is the joy in all of this?
Paul’s letters were not written during the most ideal time for Christians. he was being persecuted and fleeing from town to town. Paul suffered multiple in many ways including rejection, stoning and imprisonment. Yet Paul never stopped calling upon the various Christian Communities to rejoice, and in his letter to the Philippians he wrote; “Rejoice in the Lord always, I shall say it again, rejoice!” When Paul speaks of joy he is not referring to a nice, fleeting feeling that makes one feel good, it is the rich long-lasting joy that comes from the Holy Spirit that goes to the very core of our being. This is deep inner joy that comes from knowing Jesus. Paul believed and experienced that God was always with him, the Joy of the Lord was his strength, and he knew that even in the darkest and most difficult situations God would provide for him. Paul welcomed and experienced the Holy Spirit and this gave him the ability to shout out for joy even during the most difficult times. When we have a deep personal relationship with the Lord we can experience the Holy Spirit and the gift of Joy in our lives.
This joy can be with us always, even the most trying times. It doesn’t take away the problems and pain we might experience, but it lifts us up to accept them, bear them, and trust that Immanuel—God is with us. Today the church calls us to rejoice and to walk in faith, for God is with us. We walk believing in the truth and beauty revealed to us by Jesus and share with Christians throughout the world the importance of his birth, and faith in his second coming. This is what opens us up to being filled with that deep joy that can be inexpressible but always present in our lives. Advent is a time that helps us to be more appreciative of the gift of Jesus, more open to his presence, and more receptive of the joy that comes from him.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.
Photo: Kim Metzgar