Today is known as Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday, marking the half-way point through the Sundays of Advent. (This year it’s closer to two thirds of the way through the season, as Christmas is 8 days away.)
Colorful lights and inflatables dot the evening landscape. These joyful scenes are reminder of God’s love, as we recall the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. During the day time most inflatables are a deflated puddle, remenisent of the wicked witch melting in the Wizard of Oz. But as evening comes, they come to life once again.
Like the inflatable, only God’s breath gives us life. Joy is the breath of God in our lives. As Isaiah writes, I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul.
Reflecting further on joy, I recall that during my seminary days it was customary at dinner time to honor those celebrating birthdays. Shortly after the singing of the traditional happy birthday tune, the choruses of the birthday dirge began …. plaque and famine in the air, people dying everywhere but happy birthday.
In a dirge today, we might proclaim, “War and terror abound in the world, but rejoice always! Cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, but rejoice always! Corporate greed, a dog-eat-dog world, but rejoice always! Crack cocaine, shootings at parties, but rejoice always! How is joy possible in our world today?
A sociologist once asked an African-American minister about black people who seemed to have so little to sing about and who knew little joy due to prejudice in which they grew up: “Why do they sing so much?” The minister responded, “they sing for sheer joy because, despite disappointments and difficulties in their daily lives, they know they “have a title to a mansion on high” and the sure promise of a sharing in eternity with God. That knowledge proves to be so deliciously overwhelming that they have to sing about it. Their joy does not seek to make sense of reality but it transcends what passes for reality.
Joy is possible in our world today because God is in our midst. Authentic joy convinces us that if all our energies are centered on Christ then we can be at peace. Gospel joy is not dependent on everything going well in my life. I can have cancer and still be filled with joy. I can read about war, violence, and drugs and still be filled with joy. Joy flows from the comfort of knowing God is faithful. Isaiah reassures the Jewish people that Jerusalem will be rebuilt not because they merited it but because God is faithful.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem not because we merited but because God is faithful. The Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and us because God is faithful. I am reminded of one my favorite quotes, “when your car is stalled, there God is, He won’t start your car, but he will sit with you in the snow bank and hold your hand.”