Yesterday was the third Sunday of Advent, called Gaudete Sunday; “gaudete” is Latin for “rejoice.” Even a cursory reading of the Bible reveals that joy and rejoicing are an inevitable overflow in the lives of people who have understood and experienced God at work in their lives. Paul reminds us that rejoicing has to be a continual and ongoing part of our individual and community life as Christians. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4) I love how Eugene Peterson captures what Paul is saying here: “Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him!”
In that verse, Paul reminds us that joy isn’t just for the third Sunday in Advent. Nevertheless, it’s helpful for us to think about joy purposefully, about what genuine joy is, about whether we are experiencing it and how we promote it in our world which is so often marked by such joylessness.
Some well-known Christians have said a few things about joy and Advent.
The current Pope said that on this “Sunday of joy,” instead of fretting about “all they still haven’t” done to prepare for Christmas, believers should “think of all the good things life and God have given you.” Now you don’t need to be Roman Catholic to see that is good advice.
Mid-twentieth century German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in prison and knowing that in all likelihood he would be killed by the Nazis, wrote, “The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, who look forward to something greater to come. For these, it is enough to wait in humble fear until the Holy One himself comes down to us, God in the child in the manger. God comes. The Lord Jesus comes. Christmas comes. Christians rejoice!” If Bonhoeffer, facing all he faced, could call on us to rejoice, we surely need to find reasons to obey his call.
Henri Nouwen described joy as, “the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing – sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death – can take that love away.”
That means that whatever is happening around us and in us, we can know joy despite those circumstances and challenges.