You may have noticed that in many Advent wreaths, the candle marking the third Sunday of Advent is pink (sometimes called “rose-colored”) instead of purple. This is because the third Sunday is called “Gaudete” or “Joy” Sunday, translated from Latin. The change in color represents a lightening of the mood of Advent. While Advent is a time of expectancy and anticipation, it is also a time of waiting. And waiting is hard. Joy Sunday tells us “you’re over halfway there,” similar to the fourth Sunday in Lent, which is called Laetere Sunday, from another Latin word for “joy.” (Apparently Latin is full of joy, unbeknownst to my daughter, who regularly complains about her Latin homework.) Both of these Sundays during penitential seasons give us encouragement that our waiting is almost done. Both of these Sundays encourage us to choose joy in the midst of waiting.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7, NIV)
On Gaudete Sunday, one of the New Testament readings is often this passage from Philippians. It is a remarkable passage in its directness and simplicity: REJOICE. And not just sometimes, but always.
I don’t know about you, but I’m finding it difficult to choose or even find joy right now. The news is persistently and overwhelmingly depressing. The sky is steely and the wind bitter, and it’s impossible to get all my kids into winter gear without someone becoming violent. Personally, I have been struggling for six months with sinus drainage and chronic sore throats that make it hard for me to talk or sing for more than a few minutes at a time. I’ve gone to many doctors, all of whom say, “Hmmm, I don’t know, have you tried (fill in the blank sinus remedy)?” My husband greets me when he comes home from work with, “How’s your drainage?” A caring question, but not the romantic reception that I hope for at the end of a long day. Chronic medical conditions can make joy feel elusive.
One of the ways that I approach the command to rejoice is by looking at the whole passage, and not just the first verse. After the first verse, Paul mentions gentleness, and showing it to everyone around us. He reminds us that God is near. Paul says, try not to worry, and he tells us that one way to do this is to pray in every situation. And then he says that when we do these things, God’s peace will guard us—both our hearts and our minds—making it possible even in the most difficult circumstances to choose to rejoice. When life is hard, choosing joy often comes before feeling joy.
If you’re finding it hard to rejoice, try going through that list. First, how can you show gentleness? I do this by putting my kids’ winter gear on as kindly and carefully as I can, even when I want to pull and yank and be done with it. Second, if I’m worrying about something, I try to immediately pray about it and then contact a friend or counselor to talk about it. Paul encourages us to pray “with thanksgiving,” and so each day I try to find even a small thing to be thankful for: the Trader Joe’s prepared food section comes up a lot for me in this category. Gentleness plus prayer plus thanksgiving often brings me to a point, whatever is happening inside me or in the outside world, where I can find, and then choose, and then sometimes even feel, joy. May the same be true for you on this rose-colored Sunday.