“I’ve got the joy, joy, joy down in my heart!”
Remember that camp song from way back when? It perfectly summarizes the third Sunday of Advent, called “Gaudete Sunday” in Roman Catholic and Anglican circles. “Gaudete” (pronounced “Gow-DAY-tay”) is a Latin word meaning “rejoice,” marking a shift from the penitential nature of the season to the joy of the coming of the Lord. The pink Gaudete candle in an Advent wreath stands alone in a circle of purple candles, which symbolize repentance and fasting. This lone taper reminds us that joy in Christ, not happiness in consumption, is the true meaning of Advent and Christmas.
Where do you find your joy? Earlier this year, during a mass in Rome, Pope Francis remarked, “To be happy is good, yet joy is something more. It’s another thing, something which does not depend on external motivations, or on passing issues: it is more profound. It is a gift…it is a gift from the Lord.”
Joy is the “happy place” for a Christian. During the holiday season, many people find their happy place at a party, in the mall or beside a twinkling tree sipping eggnog. When I was younger, I hardly thought of God at all during the “”most wonderful time of the year.” The season (so I believed) was supposed to be devoted to Santa, sugar cookies and counting up the gifts under the tree with your name on them. The Baby Jesus got his special hour on Christmas Eve during candelight services — then it was back to thinking about the dubious trinity of me, myself and I.
Christmas joy is not fleeting pleasure. It is found in Christ and goes well beyond one month on the calendar. At the Last Supper, Jesus talked about a “happy place” that had nothing to do with things – but everything about relationship. “Abide in me,” He told His disciples (John 15:4). The word means to remain, dwell, stay or continue. To reinforce His point, Jesus used an illustration that would be familiar with His followers: a vine and its branches. A branch that broke off the main trunk would be unproductive. “…apart from Me you can accomplish nothing” (John 15:5). On the other hand, to remain in Christ ensures a constant infusion of divine nutrients, resulting in such Holy Spirit fruit as joy.
This abiding in Christ which brings joy may bring a song to the lips or warm assurance to the heart. Regardless, it’s a joy the world cannot give – and can never take away.