3rd Sunday of Advent Reflection by Father Rex Pillai

On this Third Sunday in Advent, we light the rose candle in the Advent wreath. This Sunday in our Advent preparations is traditionally known as “Gaudete Sunday” or “Rejoice Sunday.” On this Sunday in Advent the Church shifts its focus from penitential to one of joy. It is a shift from who we are to what happens when we become the kind of people we are capable of becoming. In the midst of our Advent preparations we anticipate Jesus’ coming joyfully.

The second reading today from Paul, invites the Thessalonians to “rejoice always.” It is not just a suggestion like “cheer up” or “look on the sunny side.” It is, rather, a command. Rejoice, not only when things are going well. Not just when I am getting my way or when everything works out as planned, but always. Joy requires a conscious choice. Joy can surprise us. It shows up in unexpected places and in people. It goes against the tide. Joy involves our whole being, which involves our ability to choose.

This is what John the Baptist does. He becomes a voice that is crying out in the wilderness. He announces good news of the long awaited Messiah’s coming to his own people living in an occupied land. His task is to help people free themselves of all that keeps them from experiencing the light and joy within them.

One of the fundamental rights in life is the right to pursue happiness. Yet, Scripture invites us to be “joyful.” What is the difference you might ask. Happiness generally depends on the quality and the quantity of material goods one possesses. It comes from the outside. Joy on the other hand, is an inner quality. Joy can flourish and blossom even in the most hopeless situation because it comes from within. However, there is a problem here. The notion of joy seems almost nonexistent in a world where so much is going wrong due to hunger, poverty, violence, prejudice, selfishness, and lack of respect toward one another. It is hard to be joyful about any of that. Therefore, we can be cynical about joy in this kind of world except that joy has never had very much to do with what is going on in the world. This is what makes joy different from happiness or pleasure or fun. All of the others depend on certain conditions like, good health, a great job, lots of possessions and status. The only condition for joy is the presence of God. Therefore, joy can break out in a bad economy, in the midst of conflict, or in a hospital waiting room.

Among the many criticisms directed against organized religion is that some of its followers lack joyfulness. The atheistic philosopher Friedrich Nietzche was the son of a Lutheran minister. After services he would ask his sisters, “Why don’t you Christians look more redeemed?”

Joy does not happen when we get what we want. It is much more likely to happen when we do not get what we want. However, we have a hard time seeing that until our own plans have crashed and burned. Yet, it is in the wilderness and in the empty-handed surrender that joy is most likely to happen.

These days of Advent as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ amidst the busyness of the season, must lead us to an inner sense of God’s constant presence and abiding love. We need to be able to believe in the abiding presence of a God who loves and therefore, gives us a deep sense of joy in the midst of our own stops and starts. It is a profound belief that God will have the last word. It is a still point in the storms of life. Joy is a gift. This Christmas may the God of joy and wonder take flesh in each one of us.