This Sunday we light the odd candle on the Advent wreath. Long before pink became a symbol of breast cancer awareness, it took prominence in the third week of Advent as a sign of joy. “Guadete” (meaning “rejoice”) Sunday marks the halfway point on our Advent journey. Paul’s letter to the Philippians encapsulates the joy that marks our faith in God’s eternal love and mercy. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).
Joy, like hope, is often mistaken for something it is not. It doesn’t equate with happiness or excitement, both of which can come in short bursts and flame out as quickly as they emerge. Joy is deep-rooted and grounded in an interior sense of well-being. It often emerges at unexpected times and in unusual ways. Paul was witness to this. He was able to encourage his followers to rejoice even though he had been subject to humiliation, rejection, intimidation, and incarceration. He gives witness to Phillip Neri’s observation that there is no such thing as a sad saint.
Much as we banter around the word during the holidays, true joy seems to be in short supply as we rush around trying to put every Christmas tradition in order. Nevertheless, it seems that the simplest things bring the most joy. When our children were small, we let them take down their stockings first thing on Christmas morning. While they loved the unwrapping of presents from under the tree, it was the little trinkets and pieces of candy they found in their stockings that brought the greatest squeals of delight.
As the pink candle sheds additional light on this Advent season, perhaps it can caution us against being killjoys. Might we, in the words of the prophet, share with each other the “oil of gladness” (Isaiah 61:3)? By bringing comfort, compassion, and companionship to all of our holiday activities we infuse each one with joy. In the process, we might reclaim a child-like delight in simple gifts that express our love and happiness at being beloved by a God of infinite joy.
Take an inventory of your holiday traditions. Which ones bring joy? Which ones have become a burden? How might you increase your level of rejoicing this Advent?
The Octave of Advent and tradition of praying the “O Antiphons” begins on December 19th. Plan a time to pray these prayers and to spend time in reflection or discussion with your family or class.