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This coming Sunday we celebrate the Third Sunday in Advent, also called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is a Latin word meaning rejoice. Given we’ve approached the halfway point in Advent, the Church changes things up a bit to provide encouragement as we continue our Advent practices. It’s like she’s cheering us on. “Rejoice; the Lord is near! The finish line is close. YOU CAN DO IT!” So we light the lone but lovely pink candle in our Advent wreath, priests wear pink vestments … although they prefer we call them rose-colored, and the Mass readings soften a bit as they move from the message of repent and prepare the way to an invitation to cry out with joy and gladness. In fact, in our second Mass reading on Sunday from Philippians 4, St. Paul implores us to “rejoice in the Lord always.” But once wasn’t enough for Paul, so he emphatically restates in the next line, “I shall say it again, rejoice!
Message received, friends. It’s time for rejoicing.
But how joyful right now are you? Are your lips saying Jesus is the reason for the season but your body communicating something entirely different? Does the command to rejoice always just make you feel, well, like that’s just one more thing to add to the calendar?
You may have heard some say joy, or J-O-Y, is an acronym representing Jesus first, then Others, then You. Jesus, others, you. Noble, yes. Properly ordered, absolutely. However, the danger in that paradigm, for some of us at least, is that by putting ourselves in last place, we run the risk of neglecting our spiritual needs. Which means we run the risk of neglecting our relationship with Jesus. So consider this twist on the acronym. The J still stands for Jesus and the Y for You, but the O stands for zero. When absolutely nothing, nada, zero, zilch comes between Jesus and You, there you will find joy.
What is getting in between you and Jesus and taking that zero up to a two, a four, a ten or more? Has your joy been overtaken with anxiety and distraction? Have you taken your eyes off Christ and your relationship with Him? Are you ignoring nudges from the Holy Spirit to take up something spiritual, to repent of a certain sin, or to simply be still for a few minutes each day?
In her book Through Him, With Him, In Him: Meditations on the Liturgical Seasons, Sister Ruth Burrows, a Carmelite nun in England, states that most of us desire peace and an inner silence especially during these red-letter seasons such as Advent. But instead of that inner peace and silence we so desire, our calendars get full, emotions run ragged, and our inner thoughts tend to run off to dark places. We then feel discouraged and failing in our Advent promises. Sister Ruth says there is no need for this discouragement as it is merely temptation, the cross. “In no way do those feelings come between God and us provided we quietly resist and bear with ourselves sweetly and patiently. It may be, in fact, a far deeper Advent in that we realize our immense need of a Savior — and what a blessing that is!”
As Sister Ruth points out, all our temptations, all those things that get between Jesus and us and take that zero to a higher number, all of that has already been resolved in the Cross for us.
I’ve had Matt Maher’s The Advent of Christmas CD on perpetual repeat this Advent. As I was writing out this reflection, it hit me that in his rendition of the traditional O Come, O Come Emmanuel hymn, Matt adds a creative bridge using the line from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Rejoice, again I say rejoice. Take heart, O weary soul, take heart, for help is on its way and holy is His name.
This week’s encouragement: First, play that song and meditate with it (see below). Then find a manger – at church, in your home, on display, or on a printed image – and kneel down beside it or with it and put yourself in that scene. Picture yourself picking up the Christ child from the manger, cradling Him in your arms, rocking back and forth with Him as you whisper: I choose you. I choose you, Jesus, as my savior. Quietly resist the distractions while sitting on the manger floor, even if it’s only for five minutes, and bear with yourself sweetly and patiently. And then, God willing, may you be able to rejoice in the Lord.
|Lisa Schmidt has a heart for building community. With a Bachelor of Family Services and Master of Public Administration, her career has been devoted to improving the quality of life for others. Currently on hiatus from the professional workforce to care for the needs of her family, Lisa has become steadily immersed in freelance work through writing, speaking, and founding The Well women’s ministry. Along with her husband Deacon Joel and their four children, the Schmidts are parishioners at St. Pius X in Urbandale, Iowa.