The third Sunday of Advent is traditionally called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is an Old English word for “joy” that comes from the Latin, gaudium, which also means, “joy.” I like this Sunday’s pink Advent candle. It’s pink because it’s Gaudete Sunday, and we shift for a moment from penitential purple to a joyful pink. The essence of the Gospel and of Christmas is joy! Someone said it well, “Joy is not the absence of suffering; it is the presence of God.” That echoes John Wesley’s last words, “Best of all, God is with us!” Advent is all about Emmanuel – the God who is with us through turbulent times and ones that are triumphant. I need Gaudete Sunday.
But, joy is a difficult emotion for many of us to elicit at this time of the year. There are so many unfulfilled dreams, too much poverty, family tensions, grief, and personal difficulties that deflate our sense of joy. I read about a man who just had his annual physical and was waiting for the doctor’s initial report. After a few minutes the doctor came in with his charts in hand and said: “There’s no reason why you can’t live a completely normal life as long as you don’t try to enjoy it.”
Too many of us have heard a report like that. The news hasn’t been kind to us with the economy in the tank. There are unresolved contingencies that concern us to the point of extreme fatigue. Our supply of joy is at or near empty on the fuel tank of our lives. Jesus, however, is the one described as “the joy of heaven to earth come down.” A father asked his child why she liked her Sunday School teacher so much. She answered, “Because her eyes twinkle like she’s laughing inside all the time.” If Jesus is our joy the corners of our mouths can perpetually keep turning upwards.
As much as I believe that statement, it sounds too trite and too easy to my ears. Joy, as I have experienced it, isn’t something that can be manufactured. It most often just happens! Nevertheless, I do know some things that anyone can do to help the process along. One thing to do is to help somebody. Remember that the “Grinch who stole Christmas” had a heart “two sizes too small.” Doing something altruistic for someone else enlarges our heart enough to not only let others in, but also joy.
Another idea for joy-enhancement is to associate with people and places that warm your soul. I’m not talking about being raucous, but surrounding yourself with events and people who are heartwarming. I have to hand it to television at this time of year. Some of the holiday specials actually make the holidays more special. Christmas caroling with the family or church group is another way to spark your heart’s ignition. Christmas Eve Candlelight Services has been a source of peaceful joy since my first recollection of one as a child. Every year I try to attend one. It fills me with a true sense of worship and joy.
Another big help for my holiday blues is a computer analogy. I have the ability to delete emails that I receive and either don’t want or need any more. What I have found, however, is that deleting them doesn’t really get rid of them. They’re just moved from my sight and placed in a “Deleted Items Folder.” What that means is that I can get back to them at the click of a mouse. If I really want them to completely disappear I have to hit not only “Delete,” but also “Purge.” Let me tell you, this image has helped me get rid of a lot of stressors in my life. To recapture joy I have to hit “Purge” or the ugly head of worry rebounds. Deleting things doesn’t finish them off enough for my obsessive-compulsive tendencies, so I hit “purge” as often as I can in order to preserve joy and foster happiness. This holiday season, no matter what you do or how you enter into a new state of being, my prayer is that all of us will experience joy!