Rejoice in the Lord Always

With all of the festivities and preparations associated with the weeks before Christmas, this can be a very hectic time.  Add shopping to the mix, and the long day at the mall jostling amid the crowds might tempt some to irritation.  Others may be distressed because they are out of work.  It is in this atmosphere of anticipation in the midst of the realities of the human condition that the Church invites us to rejoice on this third Sunday of Advent.

Joy.  It is a word we hear and use all the time.  We sing, “Joy to the world.”  But what exactly is joy?

Modern commercialism gives one answer – joy is something that can be purchased.  A similar answer is given by popular culture which tells us our individual needs and desires trump all other considerations.  Yet, invariably the people who follow these paths end up miserable as they realize that material possessions and worldly delights are superficial and fleeting.

The Church proposes another answer, namely, that joy is more than simply having fun, that it goes beyond pleasure and the world’s understanding of happiness.  Authentic joy is necessarily oriented towards the transcendent, towards things eternal, rather than worldly things that will one day turn to dust.  This joy is known deep in the heart, it “fills us from within,” explains Pope Francis.  And the way to this joy is love and goodness.

If we want to truly understand joy, just as if we want to understand Christmas – indeed the whole Christian faith – perhaps we need to learn from, and become like, children.  “Christmas is for kids,” we often hear.  All the excitement of this season is heightened when it involves youngsters.  Moreover, Christmas brings out the “kid” in each of us as we adults remember how, when we were little, we had no problem expressing genuine joy in simple things like singing carols and making cookies and snow angels.

However, this joy of children is not really about the presents.  Have you ever been in the toy department of a store and seen a child crying because he has lost his parents?  Here he is surrounded by all of these fun things, but at that moment, they mean nothing to him.  All he really wants is mom and dad.

What makes us rejoice is not getting lots of stuff, but having people who love us, especially the infinite love of the little Child of Bethlehem (Evangelii Gaudium, 7).  When he grew up, our Lord told us the source of all real joy – himself.  “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love,” he said.  “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.”

All authentic joy finds its origin in the Lord who is Love and, thus, the joys of this world are but a foretaste of the fullness of joy that is found only in heaven.  Those who come to eternal life know every blessing, but at the core of their joy is communion with God himself.  As described by Pope Benedict, “We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy” (Spe Salvi, 12).

Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and is thus interrelated with the other fruits of the Spirit.  Hence, you cannot truly be joyful if you are lacking in charity, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, or chastity.  With love at its foundation, joy must be shared if it is to remain joy.  “Joy is a pilgrim virtue,” says Pope Francis, “if we keep this joy to ourselves it will make us sick in the end.”

The Christmas message is one of great joy, which is to say it is a message of love – Jesus Christ is born, God is with us.  “With Christ,” Pope Francis affirms, “joy is constantly born anew” (Evangelii Gaudium, 1). When we share that message and joy with others – at work, at home, and even at the mall – we give them the perfect gift.