“Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again: rejoice!”
The Third Sunday of Advent is “gaudete” Sunday. From the Greek word for “rejoice” in Paul’s letter to the Philippians above, which we read today, this Sunday gets its name. We are admonished to rejoice. In the first reading, it is to shout for joy, sing joyfully, and be glad and exult with all our hearts. It seems like an odd thing these days. We witness plenty of fear, anxiety, frustration, anger, division, criticism, jealousy, offense, and even hatred, but not much joy. We see plenty of distractions, entertainment, adrenaline rushes, virtual reality, social media, altered states, and even pleasure, but not much joy. We hear of natural disasters, wars, terrotism, mass shootings, starvation, oppression, persecution, forced migration, suffering, and even abuse, but not much joy. Way back in 1975, Pope Saint Paul VI wrote in his apostolic exhortation, On Christian Joy, “Technological society has succeeded in multiplying the opportunities for pleasure, but it has great difficulty in generating joy...yet boredom, depression and sadness unhappily remain the lot of many...sometimes go as far as anguish and despair, which apparent carefreeness, the frenzies of present good fortune and artificial paradises cannot assuage...the sum of physical and moral sufferings weighs heavily: so many starving people, so many victims of fruitless combats, so many people torn from their homes...and they overwhelm people's minds.” Where did all the joy go?
Joy has a spiritual origin. It is the delight of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the eternal communion of love. Made in God’s image, we, too, are made for communion and love. The realization of this union, surrendering our hearts and lives to God in response to the gift of his Son, brings great joy. His incarnation (“Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.”) meant that God is with us, Emmanuel. Jesus’s life (“As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love...I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.”) was a manifestation of truth and love. His suffering, death, and resurrection (“And he said to them, ‘Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem...They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy.’”) opened for us the way of salvation and life eternal. Our joy begins and ends in God.
As Pope Saint Paul VI writes, however, “Christian joy presupposes a person capable of natural joy.” What is this natural joy? We need to learn again “how to savor in a simple way the many human joys that the Creator places in our path: the elating joy of existence and of life; the joy of chaste and sanctified love; the peaceful joy of nature and silence; the sometimes austere joy of work well done; the joy and satisfaction of duty performed; the transparent joy of purity, service and sharing; the demanding joy of sacrifice.” The laugh of a child. Running through gusting wind. The glint in the eye of our beloved. Reaching the summit. Doing our part. Accomplishing our goal. Sharing our life with others. Enjoying a meal. Giving and serving without reserve. Spending ourselves for others. Simple, natural joy. These joys may seem small, but they are profound. They open for us a window to the divine and our eternal joy.
Today is a day to foster joy: joy in the everyday moments and relationships of our lives and joy in our relationship with God, Mary, and all the saints. It is natural and spiritual joy intertwined. Recognize it, capture it, and celebrate it. It is worth shouting about. Rejoice!