The Third Sunday of Advent is traditionally called Gaudete Sunday. It takes its name from the first word of the introit for Latin mass for the Third Sunday of Advent: Gaudete in Domino semper - Rejoice in the Lord always (again I say rejoice! Philippians 4:4. And comes from a time when, like Lent, Advent was a 40 day season of fasting before the feast of Christmas, and therefore it was good to have a respite, a rose Sunday, a Sunday for joy, before entering into the final leg of the journey, during the darkest nights of the year.
We might not be in need of respite. But perhaps we are all in need of a little joy, especially as we worry over our final Christmas preparations, including our reflections upon what we want to do, or change, or be as we move into the future with God.
Each of the exhortations to rejoice this Sunday, (from Zephaniah 3, Isaiah 12, Philippians 4) were written in a fearful, worrisome context (during the siege of Jerusalem and from prison). Paying attention to the incongruity between the exclamations of joy and the dire circumstances in which they were composed might assure us that joy is something very different from being carefree. Christmas joy isn't about something we give or something we get. It springs from a relationship of enduring, steadfast love.
Recently I learned that a dear friend of mine will not be able to get her cataract removed before Christmas, something she was "looking forward to" because it with her sight fully recovered she would be able to drive to St. Luke's in the dark on Christmas Eve to worship as she has every Christmas Eve from long before the present church was built.
She is deeply disappointed, and that makes me sad. But I have to bear witness that she isn't allowing her disappointment to keep her from joy. Her Christmas tree is ready to decorate. My sadness isn't keeping me from joy either. Because we are friends. I love her. Love won't fix her eyes. Love sees the disappointment and grows stronger.
The joy of Christmas is like that. There are a lot of people I dearly love who I won't see this Christmas except through love's redeeming vision. But the joy is real in the midst of that absence. Because there is an enduring real presence. Christ leads us toward the brokenness we want to see changed in the world. Not so much to fix it, though we should do what we can to make it right. He leads us toward it to show us we have nothing to fear. As long as love endures so will joy.