Rejoice? - Joy, Happiness and Mary's "Yes"
[a reflection for the Third Sunday of Advent]
Have you ever wondered why we light the rose/pink colored candle in the Advent wreath on the third Sunday in Advent? If you are like me, growing up, I never even knew when that candle got a turn, I just knew when Christmas arrived all the candles were lighted.
This third Sunday of Advent is often called Gaudete Sunday. The term comes from the Latin opening words of the introit antiphon, "Rejoice (Gaudete) in the Lord always." The theme of the day expresses the joy of anticipation at the approach of the Christmas celebration. It's a lightening of the traditional penitential tone of Advent. It's also known as "Rose Sunday" due to the rose/pink colored candle, the rose-colored vestments worn in some churches, and the warming of Mary's heart (and ours) as the birth of salvation in Jesus draws near.
I wonder if joy really filled Mary's heart at this point in her life? A young girl with an unplanned pregnancy, an uncertain future, a family that probably shunned her, and a husband whose commitment seemed a little shaky. And yet with a "warmed" heart, Mary said "Yes!" and moved forward into that unknown future. "My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior," she said as she accepted what must have seemed an impossible call filled with uncertainty and difficulty (Lk 1:46-47). How can we do the same? How do we live in joy when life in this world can be less than happy?
Henri Nouwen, the famed Catholic priest, and theologian, says the difference between happiness and joy is essential. External conditions and the things that "happen" to us often dictate our happiness. Joy, on the other hand, 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." We can live with joy, even when the world hands us set-backs, reversals, grief, and sadness. God reveals his love to us through the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The story of grace and salvation that we hear in church each Sunday, but especially this time of year, puts the joy of Jesus in us that our joy may be complete. (Jn 15:11). We have a choice to make, much like Mary made a choice. "Joy does not simply happen to us, "Nouwen says. "We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day."
This Sunday, as we join in lighting the "pink" candle, let's rejoice. Rejoice in the birth of Jesus at Christmas and in our hearts each day. Rejoice that God made us, God loves us and God, as we see time and again through the story of our faith, will never forsake us. Rejoice even in the midst of the chances and changes of life because God is with us. Rejoice that as the hymn says, "love came down at Christmas" and with him – JOY!
Blessings for a holy Advent (or what is left of it).