Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again: Rejoice!
Your kindness should be known to all.
The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
It feels like forever since I attended a live music concert! Last week, I stepped into a brightly lit church to enjoy an evening holiday concert for the first time in nearly 2 years. I’d forgotten that sensation of orchestra music reverberating off the marble walls and echoing across the high ceiling. I sat in this sacred space while a chamber choir, sans microphones, filled the rafters with acapella voices. The chamber set was juxtaposed with a Mexican folk ensemble, whose toe-tapping percussion made for an imaginary street festival. In the final encore, the two choirs joined together for a recognizable Spanish Christmas tune. Suddenly, half the church rose to their feet, huge smiles beaming behind their masks, and everyone clapping along to the rhythm.
Joy! It was pure joy!! Moments of joy are undeniable, and they often take us by surprise.
This third week of Advent we celebrate Gaudete Sunday, and in the second reading we hear, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” In this season of hopeful anticipation, as we await the One who desires to dwell among us, we are invited to delight in the ways God’s presence has already manifested itself in our lives.
Where are you this Advent season? Are you ready for joy to take you by surprise?
There are 3 things I know about joy:
1. Joy happens in the unexpected moments. We can’t plan for joy to spontaneously happen, nor can we force joy to arrive on our doorstep like an Amazon package. Joy is God’s gift to us. In the midst of a busy holiday season, still emerging from the impacts of the pandemic, we might be a bit reluctant about expecting joy to arrive. Joy does not wait for the perfect day or the ideal moment. Maybe you’re already anticipating that Christmas will be hard this year. Tis the season for missing someone special, or perhaps you’re finding that the holidays are not the same as they used to be. Ask God for the grace to experience joy. Make your request known to God, and then allow God to fill your heart with delight – even just for a moment!
2. Comparison will steal your joy. I remember my discontent during Christmas 2020, when so many of our holiday traditions were put on hold. I said to my spiritual director, “Christmas will never be the same!” It’s true. Christmas 2020 was not the same as any other year, and yet, it had its own moments of magic and mystery. I made memories and new traditions with my “adopted family” that may never have happened without the interruption of COVID.
Comparison is the thief of contentment. The minute you begin comparing your life with someone else’s – your vocational path, your material possessions, your job satisfaction, your talents – then joy starts slipping away. In today’s second reading we hear, “The Lord is near!” Our savior, Emmanuel, God who is our source of joy, is already in our midst. God delights in you, exactly where you are, right now!
3. Joy moves us to action. Joy expands our hearts, our imaginations, and our love for one another. Like a church that suddenly rises to its feet to stomp with the beat of the music, joy propels us to take action. Where are you called to be that source of joy for someone else this year? How can your experience of joy provide the inspiration for helping those in need? Joy causes us to forget about ourselves for a while, to bask in God’s great love, and then return that love by sharing our joy with others. There are so many ways to use our joy during the holiday season – consider a secret Santa gift, some extra time in silent prayer, a donation to your favorite charity, or the gift of hope to families in need around the world.
Joy arrives when we least expect it. It may not come precisely at midnight on December 25th. But God came into the world – with all its wonderment, messiness, mourning, and celebration – to be the cause of our joy! May you feel it reverberating in your heart, rise to your feet, and say again, “Rejoice!”
- Using the prayer method of Lectio Divina, consider praying with Philippians 4:4-7 from the third Sunday of Advent, or any other readings from Sunday.
- Pray an guided audio Lectio Divina of Philippians 4:4-7.
- Check out our other praying with scripture resources here.
Photo by KaLisa Veer on unsplash.com