How often do you rejoice?
Are you able to rejoice on a regular basis? Is it routine for you?
Do you reserve those moments of rejoicing (or admitting to rejoicing) for special, anointed occasions?
For you, is rejoicing something that happens (usually in a certain moment, in a certain context), or is it something that very often takes you by surprise?
One more question...when you rejoice, what does it look like? Big smiles? Happy tears? Shock? A lifting of spirits?
Rejoicing is something we tend to restrict. We pack it into parties that celebrate passages, birthdays, anniversaries. We plan it and seek to isolate it, so it will be recognizable, even when it is a complete surprise.
The Third Sunday of Advent is called "Gaudete" Sunday. It is symbolized by the lighting of a pink candle. Rose, or pink, vestments are worn if the Church has them. Music changes from the majestic and solemn chants of anticipation to a barely contained, jaunty lightness that heralds the arrival of the Christchild as Christmas draws ever nearer.
One might see this as an invitation to get the celebration off to a start.
I think something else is happening.
The rejoicing that the lessons for this Sunday point toward is not quite about being all "Happy" or even really "Joyful." There are those elements, to be sure...but something deeper is also being exhibited for us to embrace, if we are willing.
There is, I believe, an invitation in this Sunday's lessons to engage in rejoicing as a deep, even profound, faithful practice. The prophet Isaiah heralds an advent of restoration from exile for God's people. They are not only being brought home from a lost place, from oppression...they are being restored. God's judgment has been rendered and God's justice is now showering down on them with an abundance. That abundance? The assurance of forgiveness, the call to the labor of restoring desolate place, the summons to rebuild what had been torn down even as God is doing God's part, rebuilding a people.
Rejoicing is something that expands beyond joy, if we resolve to practice it. It takes us past the happy and into a deeper place of gratitude. It broadens celebration into thanksgiving. It blesses the origin of Grace, and it lifts up how God as author and donor gives us measure upon measure in due season.
Rejoicing can happen any time, and I have seen it happen AT ANY TIME....
It can happen when a child is born. It can happen when crises loom. It can happen when what was lost, person or possession, is found and restored. It can happen when we mourn a loss...and it can happen when we experience deliverance from harm. It can happen anywhere.
There is only one condition....our own intention.
Rejoicing won't occur until we allow ourselves to do so. We have to open up and let those feelings flow. We have to be willing to participate in the dance of joy breaking out around us. Once we let ourselves go into that exuberance, the God's joy in us can be complete....
...and that is why we start the party in celebration of the Advent of our Lord a little early. That sort of rejoicing takes a little warming up before we hit it full stride, come the Feast of the Nativity!