This weekend, the third Sunday of Advent, we are called to rejoice. Traditionally this Sunday is called Gaudete (Rejoice!) Sunday and signifies the nearness of the Lord's coming. We light the pink candle of our advent wreath and all the Mass readings deal with rejoicing in the Lord. But you might well ask, where do we find joy during a global pandemic?
To begin with, no matter how bad life gets, we can rest in one important truth: God will not stop loving us. We will have things go right. We will have things go wrong. But God’s love will never end—we can count on that. That truth should be one of the most important sources of joy in our life! The Bible says it like this in Romans 8:38-39: “For I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love.”
The theologian Henri Nouwen described the difference between joy and happiness. While happiness is dependent on external conditions, joy is "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." Thus, if we keep in mind the unconditional love that God has for us, joy can be present even amid sadness. “
The next thing that should cheer us up is the fact that Christmas, and the coming of the Son of God into our lives, is just around the corner. John the Baptist proclaims in today’s Gospel reading that Jesus is about to begin his public ministry “there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” (John 1:27) Jesus, our saviour, comes to us so that we can be reunited with God the Father and have the promise of eternal life with Him. He comes to give us joy. As Jesus said, “I say these things in the world so that they might have my joy in their hearts in all its fullness.” (John 17:13)
In his 2014 Gaudete Sunday homily, Pope Francis said that Gaudete Sunday is known as the "Sunday of joy", and that instead of fretting about "all they still haven't" done to prepare for Christmas, people should "think of all the good things life has given you." So, another way that we can find joy this weekend is in taking the time to thank God for our blessings.
In the second reading Paul says rejoice in the Lord always. Paul is commanding us to be joyful. But how do we answer his command? It turns out that we are joyful in the measure that we forget about ourselves and look to the other in love. It is as simple as that. When we find ourselves depressed and anxious, hopeless or desperate, we need to perform an act of love. To love is to will the good of the other and to take action to help them. For example, we can do this in our neighborhood by supporting a local food drive or in our Church community by supporting a Christmas Hamper program. In our current circumstances there are a lot of people looking for human contact and love. This is our opportunity to be selfless by offering a simple act of caring for someone around us for that is where real joy comes from.
Finally, it is hard to be joyful when one is anxious. How can you reduce your anxiety? One of the best ways is to be reconciled with your loved ones and your God. If you are “in the wilderness” with a family member or friend, now is the time to seek or to offer forgiveness. Being in harmony with those that you love will provide you comfort and strength to deal with the storms that life sends your way. Similarly, being in “right relationship” with God will greatly diminish your fear. According to Bishop Robert Barron, “the opposite of love is not hate it is fear.” Ask God for forgiveness and you will be able to turn away from your concern and anxiety and turn to Him.
In summary, as we struggle with the difficult circumstances that surround us, joy can be found when we remember God’s unconditional love and anticipate the arrival of Jesus, our saviour, this Christmas. We also need to remember that the very mission of Jesus was to bring us joy and that our joy should be complete in the sacrifice that He has made for us. We need to make every effort to be reconciled with our loved ones and with God. Let us count our blessings and offer selfless acts of love to all whenever the opportunity presents itself. Rejoice! Emmanuel (God with us) is coming!
God bless you folks, Father Gerard