When we allow joy into our lives and it is able to touch the deepest part of our hearts it is so exquisite that it often brings tears to our eyes. I have often found that joy breaks our hearts and creates such a yearning for eternity that it is almost painful. The hardness of our hearts from the everyday experiences of sorrows and disappointments, fears and anxieties is shattered as our hearts are pierced by a sudden moment of joy that breaks through the clouds of our protective barrier behind which our true nature hides and causes us to look full on into the truth of eternal love and grace. For a brief moment we cannot deny the full truth of love and its transformative power.
For a brief moment we know through our experience that it is love that will be our salvation. I have often witnessed this type of joy at weddings when the bride enters in adorned for her husband and ready to enter into an eternal life of love and union with her beloved. Often, there are tears of joy shed by more than a few of the guests that have been invited as witnesses to joy, even by this priest who stands as the witness for the Church, as this beautiful moment touches the hearts of those in attendance.
On this third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, we are reminded that the purpose of all of our Advent preparations is the readiness for joy, the joy of the encounter of the bride with the bridegroom. Advent hope and preparation points us towards joy. For this reason our third candle on the Advent wreath is the rose colored candle, a symbol of joy. The reading from Isaiah gives us this image of the marriage feast in which God “has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice, like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels.” (Is 61,10) When we encounter the bridegroom Christ adorned with the graces that God has provided for our human nature, like a bridal garment, gleaming white and adorned with jewels, we begin to experience the joy that comes at the end of our Advent preparations. We are the bridal Church that awaits the coming of the bridegroom Christ so that we might enter into an eternal union of love and communion with our beloved Lord. This is the cause of our joy and gives us sufficient reason to “rejoice always.” (1Thes 5,16)
Advent is our marriage preparation program in which we are guided by St. Paul to prepare ourselves for the coming of the bridegroom Christ and the life of abundant joy that he brings. St. Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians, gives us instructions on our daily preparations for this encounter in three parts. The first instruction is to “rejoice always”. We need to practice joy and begin to feel the joy of the nearness of the coming of our beloved Lord Jesus. The second instruction is to “pray unceasingly”. Prayer creates the space for communion in our daily converse with the Lord. In constant prayer we bring everything to the Lord and keep no part of ourselves from him. In prayer we respond to his gift of presence and the gift of his Word through words that express our love and devotion to him. Our third instruction is “in all circumstances give thanks.” We need to realize the blessings that God has bestowed upon us in calling us to this intimate relationship of love. No matter what happens we have a reason to give thanks because God is with us, the Emmanuel, and will never leave us alone. Our instructions need to be carried out in a way that prepares us for eternity: always, unceasingly, and in all circumstances. In this way we will be made a worthy bride, “perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1Thes 5,23)
The joy of the third Sunday of Advent makes “straight the way of the Lord” and prepares us for a Christmas full of joy, peace and love. John the Baptist points the way to joy. In the gospel of John we are told: “John answered and said, “No one can receive anything except what has been given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said that I am not the Messiah, but that I was sent before him. The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease.” (Jn 3,27-30) John, “was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.” (Jn 1,6f) John was not the light, he was not the bridegroom but in the light of Christ he saw the coming of the Lord and he heard his voice proclaim God’s Word. The Light and the Voice must increase and the witness must decrease because as St. Paul says, “yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.” (Gal 2,20) That is complete joy!