Many Advent calendars refer to the third Sunday as Gaudete Sunday—the Sunday of joy. In many churches, congregants will light a candle and read words that remind us to lean into the season with joy. Beyond the church walls, generators of joy surround us as well—ribbons and bows, carols and classic movies, extravagant menus and time with those we love.
But we know the joy of Christmas rarely lasts long. The carols cease, and our indulgences perhaps lead to a gym membership. We pack away the nativity set even before the kings have arrived at Epiphany. Maybe that’s why, before Christmas has even passed, stores stock shelves for Valentine’s Day, the next shot of commercially available happiness.
This week’s passages allow us to explore the nature of Christian joy. Paul’s letter reminds us that joy is a core component of the Christian life, a quality of life we should recognize, practice, and cultivate continuously, not just in particular sea- sons or circumstances.
In the past several years, Christian and secular authors alike have brought a renewed focus to cultivating gratitude. A friend of mine adopted a daily discipline of posting on social media things for which she is grateful. As a result, she has found her outlook on life transformed. When we acknowledge the joy in our lives, we become more joyful.
Cultivating joy requires human effort alongside divine work, so perhaps this is the orientation for the week ahead: to begin by naming goodness wherever we see it and by giving thanks for ribbons and bows and sweet music and strong memories and a kind smile and, most of all, the ways the Christ child is revealed to us even now. Perhaps, as we practice joy, we will begin to enter into the joy of Advent, the joy of anticipation, the joy of the Christ whom we await.
What are three specific moments, people, or things for which you are thankful today?
In Isaiah 61, the Anointed One declares a message of liberation. Justice, righteousness, and praise will blossom as new shoots of growth in the garden of the Lord. Psalm 126 remembers a time in the past when God’s mercy broke forth in an unparalleled manner. The character of the community and of the individual members will be transformed. The First Thessalonians text voices a yearning for the “coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” yet the promise of the Second Advent has kindled great hope and gladness in the heart of the Christian community. The reading from the Gospel of John also raises the issue of the mood of expectancy that characterizes the period of time between promise and fulfillment.
• Read Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11. If “the spirit of the Lord GOD is upon” you, what does that mean for the way you live day by day?
• Read Psalm 126. Have you experienced joy in a time of brokenness? How do you understand the seeming contradictions?
• Read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24. Which of the disciplines Paul speaks of in verses 16-22 do you faithfully practice? Which might you cultivate further?
• Read John 1:6-8, 19-28. John not only knows his role; he knows who he is not: the Messiah. In this time of Advent waiting, consider who you are not. How does that consideration simplify your life? What may you release?
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