Let us pray:
Behold, The Lord is doing a new thing! Illumine our minds and hearts that we may feel the Spirit’s movement through these Advent days and in the scriptures before us. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
We have journeyed from Hope, the first Advent candle, to Peace, the second. Moving deeper into the mystery of Christ’s coming for this day, this time, this place; let us continue from Peace deeper into Joy. How does one move from Peace to Joy? As we moved toward Hope, so we moved toward Peace; peace of the heart, peace of the home, peace of the silence of a snowy day. Peace sometimes simply by the absence of conflict. Finally, the Peace of Christ, knowing even if there seems to be no peace, that there is a place of knowing a deeper Shalom of God embedded within us. From this place, then, we begin an even deeper journey. From the place where we meet and are met by God in our inner beings, so then we begin to find a deeper meaning. God abides with us, abides in us, and so like an ever unfolding rose beginning to blossom, the warmth of God’s peace spreads outward. A Spring begins to bubble forth; perhaps mirth, perhaps shining smiles of heaven lighting up our faces as Joy takes root within and begins to shine outwards to others ‘round about us.
Of course that is not to say there are not challenges for discovering and holding onto joy in this season. This season also has times of grief, business, frustration, angst, and a flurry of activity in preparation for other meanings – often stress-inducing ones – that Christmas has attracted through the years. Which means, perhaps, we should go back to the root of the word “Joy” and rediscover its true meaning.
Paul writes to the Philippians to “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say, rejoice.” (Phil. 4:4) This rejoicing is synonymous with living joyfully. There is embedded within today’s short pericope a deeply profound theology of joy which we can unpack. This joy, as indicated by Paul’s letter elsewhere, is joy “in the Lord.”
“This joy Paul commends is not something that one can pursue. This is one of the differences between this joy and what is referred to as happiness in contemporary social discourse. It is not accidental that one of the foundational texts of American social and political life affirms that one has the right to “the pursuit of happiness.” There is within the statement itself a clue to the difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is something that is pursued, and happiness is tied up in the pursuit. But joy is something else altogether. It is a “joy” that the English essayist C. S. Lewis described as the best translation he could make of the German idea of Sehnsucht, or longing.”
This longing is found, too, in liturgically enthusiastic traditions such as the African American Church. James H. Evans Jr. reminds us that at the heart of the understanding of joy in the African American worship experience (according to Barbara A. Holmes) is a deep longing.
Do you understand that longing? I think I am beginning to. I easily get overwhelmed with the material happiness that our capitalist economy wishes to promise us this time of year. There can be no further difference, I think,
“…between the material happiness that the commercial world promises and the abiding joy of Christian faith that cannot be bought … but can sustain us, come what may.”
Emmy Arnold writes,
“Even though the celebration of Christmas is exploited for business profit and used for selfish purposes; even though the meaning of Christmas is often corrupted; in spite of all this, we all feel the impulse at this time to think of others, to show love to others, to be there for others. This itself shows what this joy of anticipation is. It is the feeling of human solidarity, the exulting joy in one another, the centrality of mutual love. The brightness and fragrance of the living Christmas tree under which Christmas gifts are laid – here is light and warmth, symbolizing life and love.”
Behold, the angel says in Luke, “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people…” (Luke 2:10)
This is what the message is! This is how the peace that passes all understanding becomes joy in our midst:
“The Christmas star in the night sky, the shining of [Christmas lights] in the night – all this is the sign that light breaks into darkness. Though we see about us the darkness of unrest, of family discord, of class struggle, of competitive jealousy and of national hatred, the light shall shine and drive it out.”
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” (Isaiah 9:2)
“Wherever the Christmas Child is born in a heart, wherever Jesus begins his earthly life anew – that is where the life of God’s love and of God’s peace dawns again.”
And there, there we find where peace has bloomed into a rose of joy. There, joy slowly fills up our hearts and we become, again, the Christmas Rose for others. May all glory be unto the One for whom we wait, the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
Questions for Reflection
The Advent wreath, first used as a Christian devotion in the Middle Ages, gets its design from the customs of pre-Christian Germanic and Scandinavian cultures, who used candles and greenery as symbols of light and life during winter. Purple, Rose, and White are the traditional colors, linking Advent/Christmas, and Lent/Easter. We light the candles to symbolizing the light of Christ coming into the world, and because we are the hands and feet of Christ for the present. The evergreen symbolizes renewal, and the circular shape symbolizes the completeness of God.
Candles have traditionally been given various names and designations:
Candle 1. Hope and/or Patriarchs (and I would add Matriarchs) – purple
Candle 2. Peace and/or Prophets – purple
Candle 3. Joy and/or John the Baptist – rose
Candle 4. Love or The Virgin Mary – purple
Candle 5. Christ The Light of the World – white
Reflect on how your life might travel a sacred path from Hope to Peace; from Peace to Joy. How might your daily actions reflect living out this path of Advent waiting? What hinders you? What encourages?
Household Prayer: Morning
God, surely you are my salvation. I begin this day without fear, trusting you, for you are my strength. Help me to meditate all day on the thought that you are rejoicing in me! Keep me keenly aware as I travel through this day of ways that I may help others, especially those with extra needs this season. Then bring me home to you at the close of the day. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
Thank you, God, for the gift of today and for guarding my heart and my mind in Christ Jesus. All that I did and all that I left undone, I now give over to your safekeeping, trusting in your peace that surpasses all understanding. Be my rest as I sleep tonight, and renew me in your love for another day. Amen.
 James H. Evans, Jr., “Theological Perspective, Philippians 2:4-7” in Feasting on the Word – Year C, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
 Philip E. Campbell, “Pastoral Perspective, Philippians 2:4-7” in Feasting on the Word – Year C, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
Emmy Arnold, “Christmas Joy” Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas (Farmington, PA: Plough Publishing House, 2001). 129