The third Sunday of Advent is called “Joyful Sunday” as Christmas draws near. This time of year is meant to be a time of joy, but it can be a time of sadness for some for a variety of reasons. Some of us struggle to find joy at Christmas because we confuse joy with feeling good. In the world of advertising which peaks at times like Christmas, we are encouraged to feel good all the time and to get whatever it takes to make our lives happier. The truth is that no amount of material things, stimulants, or comforts can compensate for a lack of joy that many experience in the depths of their soul. The source of our joy is not in what we have. It lies in “Emmanuel,” the name which means “God is with us”.
From a faith perspective we discover joy; the joy of knowing that God is near as we celebrate “the Word made flesh who lives among us”. God’s presence among us is not static. When people experience His salvation, joy is experienced as it was by Mary whose spirit “rejoices in God my Savior…for the Almighty has done great things for me”. We see great joy in the three parables of mercy in Luke’s gospel; the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son; all which end in joy because they were found, healed and forgiven.
Joy is produced from God’s action in our lives that always moves us towards greater harmony and right order. God’s spirit is always leading us into deeper communion with each other and with Him. His spirit moves us from slavery to freedom, from darkness to light, from turmoil to harmony. God is always forming us to become more perfect in love which brings us joy.
Joy is not just rooted in God but in the ways of God. These are the ways of God that we must embrace if joy is to be ours. For example, joy will be impossible if we act unjustly or ignore truth. Here is the invitation to order our lives along the domains of justice, truth, peace, and love. It is the way of the Beatitudes where Jesus teaches us how to be blessed. When we are blessed, joy ensues. Feelings come and go, but the fruit of a well-ordered life is blessedness, which leads to lasting joy.
Finally, spiritual joy can be found even in the midst of sorrow and suffering. Faced with His own impending suffering and death, Jesus assures His disciples that “though you will be sorrowful, your sorrow will turn to joy”. Sorrow is temporary, while joy will be everlasting. So while we may be broken in various ways and sometimes carry heavy crosses, the experience of joy is still possible when our suffering is united with that of Jesus. The experience of sadness and loss is not an end in itself, but a moment that will give way, eventually, to joy.
Christianity is a religion of joy, it is truly “glad tidings” for humanity. As Christmas approaches, we may well experience feelings of melancholy or sadness for different reasons. But let us also have the courage to rejoice in the Lord—in His presence, in His gift of salvation, in our praise of Him, in His ways, in our hope of heaven, and even in His cross. God is the source of our joy, for He is indeed the God of joy.