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.” The essence of the Gospel and of Christmas is joy! This Sunday we light the pink candle! It’s not gaudy in a bad way. It’s gaudy because Jesus’ coming makes us glad!
But, joy is an elusive and difficult emotion for many of us to feel at this time of the year. There are so many unfulfilled dreams, too much poverty, terrorism, violence, family tensions, grief, and personal difficulties that seek to destroy 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 reports like that. The news hasn’t been kind to us. 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 no matter our circumstances.
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 nice for someone else enlarges our heart enough to let others in, and joy, too.
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. Also the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service at St. John’s is one scene that is unforgettable and joy-filled!
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 more wows than woes! Some of us will worry ourselves into a tizzy this season. I wrote the following poem, not at all a personal strength, which sums up my feelings about Christmas Joy and where it comes from. I gave it the title “By the Calendar or Christ’s Coming:”
In our rush to reach the climax of Christmas
We have surrendered to the siren of success.
Our reckless abandon has left us anxious
And, for most, a destructive case of terrible excess.
Over spending, over eating, over doing everything
With cards to mail, and tree lights to string,
Packages to wrap and carols to sing,
What joy, if any, will all this busyness bring?
We hustle and bustle to get the best buys,
Which usually result in an exchange of size.
We are lured by on-line shopping or valet parking at the mall
And forget that God’s greatest gift was born in a stall.
Neither upon crowds of people, myriad lights, nor gifts without end,
Does the Joy of Christmas depend,
It isn’t a yuletide project to create;
It occurs simply as we learn to wait.
We can choose to live by Christ’s coming or by the calendar,
Marking off party-filled days, or by God’s Son so near
Amid the terror of our violence-filled world and its horrible sneer,
Or by the Prince of Peace’s presence so dear.
A choice to shake off earth’s trappings of glitter
And bask only in God’s splendor,
Thinking about Jesus of whom the angels sing
And to whom Wise Men their gifts bring.
By the Calendar or the Coming is our choice
One drowns out the world’s thunderous noise,
While the other yells evil’s seductive ploys,
Marking time or experiencing God’s joys.