The 3rd Sunday in Advent - A Homily On “Joy”

The Third Sunday of Advent is known as “Gaudete Sunday.” Gaudete is the Latin word for rejoicing or joy. We hear these words read in the Scriptures today, “Sing joyfully; shout with joy; cry out with joy.” But what is joy? What does it feel like? Where does it come from? How do you get it? How do you hold onto it?

One Scripture scholar described the search for joy this way:

There is ordinary time in our lives. This is when duty, work, emotional and financial burdens, tiredness, worries, pressure of all kinds, the grind, the routine, the rat-race, the work-week keep us from joy and enjoying a life that is cheery and pleasant.

So we look forward to “special time:” weekends, nights out, vacation, social celebrations and parties where we can break the routine, keep our depression at bay, enjoy ourselves, and experience joy.

Well, that’s not joy. That’s pleasure and that’s happiness. What does Scripture say about happiness?

“When you shall eat the fruit of your hands, you will be happy and it will be well with you.” Psalm 128:2

“Happy is he who is gracious to the poor.” Proverbs 14:21

“You have been faithful in small matters; I will put you in charge of greater things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ Matthew 25:21

The first thing to notice is that happiness is dependent on something else. Happiness is almost always an if-then statement. If such-and-such happens, then happiness happens. So happiness is external. It’s based on situations, events, people, places, things, and thoughts.

Now this doesn’t mean that happiness is bad. Happiness is a gift from God and thus it is something good. But ultimately, happiness is an emotion. The fact that happiness doesn’t last but passes away so quickly is the second issue about happiness. “Three days after returning from vacation, we are again just as tired as before and are in need of a vacation once again.”

So let’s look at the characteristics of joy.

First, Joy is not an emotion; joy is more of a symptom, a byproduct of something else - something deeper. Happiness comes from the outside; joy is from the IN-side.

Second, you can’t go out and “look for joy” or “get joy.” C. S. Lewis said that joy has to surprise you. You can’t find it, it has to find you.”

We see this in The Prayer of St. Francis. This prayer tells us that we can never attain joy, or - for that matter - consolation or peace or forgiveness or love or understanding by actively pursuing them. We attain them by giving them away. Joy will come to us if we set about actively trying to create it - for others.

Third, true joy that lasts is not dependent upon external circumstances. This leads to the fourth aspect of joy which is where joy is found, and this is the tough one. Joy is found where happiness, hope, loss and suffering all intermingle.

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

“God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God.” Romans 8:18-19

“For we know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:38

The fourth aspect of joy is that it cannot be found in the midst of noise or activity or clutter.

Joy is about entering into voluntary simplicity where the fire of purging away the sound and busyness and stuff leaves a clearer picture and path to the internal life. When stuff, people, and the problems they bring begin to fall away - there is a stillness. There is a contentment that comes from internal factors like grace, gratitude, hope, love and faith in the Lord.

Only in that stillness can we ever find the joy that resides inside of us, dependent on nothing external in order to surface and exist. During this holiday season, this is a great concept to contemplate.

John of the Cross, ends one of his most famous instructions with this poem:

To reach satisfaction, cultivate the desire of possessing nothing.

To come to possess all, ask for the desire to possess nothing.

To arrive at being someone special, desire to be nothing.

To come to the pleasure you have not, you must go by the way in which you enjoy not.

To come to the knowledge you have not, you must go by a way in which you know not.

To come to be what you are not, you must go by a way in which you are not.


Audio version of the homily is here:


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