Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)
I once visited a friend who was diagnosed with cancer of the breast. She was always in severe pain. But I discovered each time I visited her she would always be beaming with smiles, full of joy, never complaining, never bitter to her family members. Those family members around her reported too that she was always full of joy and never abandoned her prayers. She abandoned everything in the hands of God and found peace in that.
When I was reflecting on the reading today and the meaning of Gaudete (rejoice) Sunday, I remembered this story of my friend. Every third Sunday of Advent, the Church marks the Gaudete Sunday and enjoins on us to be joyful. Looking at a lot of things happening around us here: another upsurge of covid-19 with a new variant this time, the latest shooting at Oxford High School, illnesses, abandonment and many other uncertainties staring us in the face, one would actually wonder if there is anything to be happy about. Is there really something about this time that should make us to rejoice?
But one thing I have come to realize, after deep prayer, meditation and the experiences of people, is that deep connection with God is the meaning of true joy. I really do not know if Jesus was ever funny. I am not even sure he was happy. But one thing I am sure is that he was always filled with joy. For Jesus, joy is born out of his ongoing intimacy with the Father. Jesus is always connected to the source from where he comes. He never feels alone. Here, he is talking about a deep sense of belonging. Jesus says, “You might leave me. Everybody might forget about me. But the Father will never leave me. The Father is faithful. The Father is with me.” This kind of joy is one that is anchored on connection.
The experience of joy that Jesus offers is not happiness. It is not just about feeling. It is something more than that. This kind of joy is one that is never disconnected from sorrow. The society makes us think that sorrow and joy are two different emotional states – sadness and happiness. That is why people make every effort to create moments of happiness in other to forget about their sorrow. But spiritual joy is something we participate in; it comes from elsewhere and flows through us. It has little or nothing to do with things going well in our own life at that moment. I remember thinking that this must be why the saints could rejoice in the midst of suffering.
Joy is a gift from God that is present even in the midst of sorrow; even when we are in pain; even when things are difficult in our lives. This is the kind of joy that Jesus offers, and which can exist in very difficult situation. It is a spiritual kind of joy, where sorrow and sadness embrace each other. Joy is hidden in the human pain.
On this third Sunday of Advent, Jesus is reminding us that He has anointed us to proclaim the joy of comfort and encouragement in our neighborhood. Like the Israelites of Isaiah’s day, there many who cower in fear under the shadow of death with a self-esteem that has collapsed. God has called His people to be a comfort to those who are afflicted, broken-hearted, imprisoned by physical ailments, are spiritual destitute, and those who are hurting and mourning their losses.
In the midst of all the challenges, remember to be joyful today and forever