3rd Sunday of Advent
December 16, 2018
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again: rejoice!”
Not only is this Sunday, Gaudate Sunday, actually dedicated to rejoicing, but during the season of Advent many people have the expectation that life is supposed to be more joyful somehow. Many of us do not always feel so joyful and wonder if there is something gone amiss.Let’s face it: Saint Paul’s commandment to rejoice always makes many of us feel guilty.
There is a big difference between joy and rejoicing. Rejoicing is a decision of the will and has nothing to do with our feelings. I can decide to rejoice even if I am feeling lousy.Neither rejoicing nor joy depend on feelings.Rejoicing is an act of the will (even when we feel the opposite); joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Joy can be cultivated and, it is to some extent, the result of right living; but rejoicing is always available to us. It can transform any situation we practice it in. I definitely cannot make myself joyful, but I can practice rejoicing in all circumstances. Saint Paul tells us that we are to rejoice always. In fact, he says it twice for emphasis. He does not say “have joy always”, which is impossible for us to will.Again, joy is a gift; rejoicing is a choice. Neither depends on how we feel at the moment.
Learning to rejoice “always”, that is in all circumstances, is a habit we can cultivate: it is learned. It is also psychologically healthy and very freeing. Rejoicing essentially means this: thanking and praising God for all things, in all circumstances, all the time.What incredibly different lives we would lead if we began to practice this one principle!
One time while still in the seminary I drove a long way to a department store warehouse in Portland to get some flannel sheets for my chilly room in the seminary. I got a great deal, great sheets, and was very pleased with myself when, halfway home, something made me look in the bag: sure enough, I had two fitted flannel sheets in there and no flat sheet. Instead of my normal reaction, which would not have been particularly edifying, I remember thanking God for those fitted sheets. I just thanked and praised God for that ridiculous situation, and a strange thing began to happen: it became rejoicing. This fiasco became an engine of transformation.
The situation may have been trivial, but the principle isn’t. By learning to rejoice in the little setbacks and triumphs of everyday living, we are building our skills for the really crucial tests of character that eventually cross our paths.