Pink Candle Sunday

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.

 Pink Sunday!

 

 

Dealing with Death and Suicide on Gaudete Sunday

Sudden death gut punches us with the dreaded reality that life will never be the same. This Sunday is going to be especially difficult for one church and several families this year. I just received a report that a wonderful elderly couple was found dead in an apparent murder-suicide. They were both great people, and people of faith. I don’t know all of the details, as if anyone can, but the report thus far suggests that declining health may have led to this drastic decision. I hurt for their families and desperately hurt for these precious people.

How can anyone who believes in Christmas joy and Easter resurrection see these terrible acts as a viable option in the face of life’s difficulties? Death at one’s own hand flies in the face of the joy and hope that we Christians profess. I personally know life is difficult, but there is no easy way out for anyone in these situations. The survivors of such actions are scarred for life, including the generations that follow. There are palliative methods to ease life’s burdens through the comfort of family, friends, the church, and hospice, without the necessity of such desperate action.

Certainly I don’t think that suicide is an unpardonable sin. I have known situations where people simply could not see beyond their hands, so to speak. The darkness so fully enveloped them that poor decisions were made. They were momentarily out of their best minds or thinking to a degree, and if human courts let people off due to temporary insanity, how much more will the courts of heaven? God is a God of grace and mercy and that is my firm hope in this situation, and there is little else to go on in this bewildering time. A decision was made, whether with rational culpability or irrational nonsense, and lives and families have been shattered. Who in their right mind would want people to remember the circumstances of their death instead of all the years of faith, good deeds, and positive character traits? It just doesn’t make sense, and I guess that’s the point. We will never know the whole story so we’re left wondering and crying.

I just wish that I and others might have picked up on the warning signs, and somehow my mind keeps debating if Christianity as a whole has let such people down. Instead of encouraging an endurance that comes from hope and a joy that is not dependent on circumstances, we have often taught people to count on themselves for supposed solutions. The essence of the Christian faith is to count on God, but we are either too distracted by the world or prosperity-Gospel advocates to know that band-aids and panaceas only mask pain, not defeat it.

Although specifically difficult for grieving families, this coming Sunday is still Gaudete Sunday, otherwise known as “Joy Sunday” with its pink candle on the Advent Wreath.  “Gaudete” comes from the Latin gaudium which means “joy,” and it’s the source of our contemporary word “gaudy.” When I think of something that’s gaudy, I think “tacky” more than joyful. In the face of any tragic news I have to wonder whether we are joyful enough as Christians to be called tacky. Do we dare proclaim faith, hope, and even joy as an affront to the dour and horrible machinations of the forces that would cause pain and suffering? We are fighting a war between joy and despondency, and lights and tinsel aren’t weapons enough.

Jesus, the conqueror of death and despair, is the King who has come and is coming again, yet I’m afraid that we have domesticated his incarnation with decorations and pleasantries so much that we miss the audacious joy, the tacky but unconquerable hope that flows from the amazing news of a Savior who left the safety of eternity and immersed himself in time to be with us in our every trial. As a result we have gotten so caught up in the peripheral trappings of Christmas that we have been less than Incarnational with those hurting around us. We keep silent and dare not be tacky enough to intrude and enter their pain. It’s high time to be tacky once again. This is Gaudete Sunday’s solemn reminder to me in the face of this tragedy.

Someone anonymously said, “The cross leads to joy and not just happiness. There is a difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is a checkbook that has money, a car that works, a good date for Saturday night. Happiness is the absence of major hassles, or terrorism or crime; happiness is kids getting good report cards and spouses getting a raise. Happiness is something we know as enhancement or protection of our own lives. Joy comes in connection with another or with Jesus. Joy can happen without money or a working car. Joy happens when we get to the core of life and realize that love is at the center. Joy befriends us; love accompanies us. Jesus is God-with-us and will never leave or forsake us. Joy is not the absence of suffering; it is the presence of God.”

May God grant peace to all those who are suffering that they may know the audacity of Christ’s presence, the essence of joy. Happiness is fleeting while joy endures forever. Perhaps more than ever, we need Gaudete Sunday this year.

Real Joy

>

The Robin in this snow photo from earlier this year reminds me to rise above the din of consumerism and enjoy the heavenly heights as peaceful as a snow-muffled day. That’s joy to me! 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.” Our focus this week, therefore, is upon the joy that Christ’s coming brings. The essence of Christmas is joy!
Wow! What a revelation! Here I am with Christmas about to kill me, and it’s about joy? My trip to the mall just about did me in. I found out the truth about Santa. He comes to us under many names: Kris Kringle, Saint Nicholas, and MasterCard.
The Jackson family went to the mall to shop for Christmas presents for one another. Before they all split up to shop on their own, the father said, “We’ll meet at the car at 6 o’clock, so we need to synchronize our watches.” As they adjusted their watches, mother nudged father, then stretched out her hand and said, “While we’re at it, let’s synchronize our wallets, too!
Christmas joy is doled out in monetary amounts by well-meaning people, but where is the joy? Payments and bills are inevitable, and what’s to show for all the expense of time or energy?
You can’t fake the wonder of a child’s face at hearing and understanding the message of Christmas for the first time. The joy of Christmas can’t be bought and sold, it’s a climate of the heart.
Some time ago I read one of those handyman columns in the newspaper. It went: “Dear sir, Where can I buy aluminum Christmas-tree needles to spread on the carpet under my aluminum Christmas tree? I want it to look natural, as if they’d fallen off the tree in the old fashioned way.” Of course it was signed, “Sentimental.”
The answer was better than the question: “Dear Sentimental: They aren’t available right now, but a satisfactory substitute is to buy a few boughs of natural evergreen, allow the needles to dry and fall off, and then spray paint them with aluminum paint. They look just like the real thing!”
I want real joy, not store-bought spirits and fake needles. There is no satisfactory substitute for real Christmas joy. Maybe that’s why we keep being suckered into malls every year when real joy is found at the altar? Read Isaiah 55:1-3 and compare it with Matthew 11:28-30! Here is the source of true joy!

Gaudete Sunday

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!