“The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy” (Ps 126:3), the psalm refrain for the Second Sunday of Advent.
Joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22) along with love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23), all ways to manifest the presence of God. The Greek word for joy is χαρα [chara], whose meanings also include the notions of cheer, calm, delight, and gladness; to wish someone well or farewell is to wish them joy. The Latin word for joy is gaudium, used twice uniquely by Benedict in his rule, chapter 49.6-7 on Lent, with reference to “the joy of the Holy Spirit” (vs 6) and looking “forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing” (vs. 7). So whether the season is one of longing for the celebration of the resurrected Christ in our midst at Easter or longing for the celebration of God incarnate at Christmas, we Christians who believe that God-is-with-us, show that fact with the expression of joy.
Joy is our theme for this reflection, joy over the incredible things we have seen (cf. Luke 5:26). In these weeks of Advent, there have been several occasions of joy. During the first week of Advent, I travelled to the parish in which I was baptized. The experience was one of palpable joy. At the ceremony around the advent wreath the celebrant asked the children gathered around what each candle signified. As he pointed to the fourth candle, he asked, “Who is coming?” and the children all shouted, “Santa.” Of course, the congregation burst out laughing. Meanwhile a boy had gone over to the altar and was jumping up and blowing, trying to extinguish the candle, but he could not quite coordinate his jumps with his breath. Then his mom intervened to remove him from the sanctuary.
The other moment of joy occurred when a couple of children, who had come up in the communion line for their blessing, ran down the aisle with smiles on their faces back to their families. Would that we all could skip down the aisle with such glee (spiritual joy) after communion or a blessing!
Since that day, other opportunities presented themselves to witness joy. One day I looked out my window to see three deer gamboling in the field behind the Monastery. One of the smaller deer butted his head against the rear of another deer, and then quickly ran (to hide?) in the Mary Garden. The other deer followed and both must have found some delectable morsels for they stayed quite some time in the enclosed garden. The deers’ play echoes the delight the Song author observes, “My lover is like a gazelle or a young stag [who] stands behind the wall, gazing through … the lattices” (Song 2:9).
As I write this reflection it is the third week of Advent, begun on Gaudete or Rejoice Sunday. At the Eucharistic liturgy we heard Paul’s letter to the Philippians proclaim: “Rejoice in the Lord always I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all” (Phil 4:4). How frequently we do a happy dance or smile when we experience a random act of kindness. One day on a trip to a meeting I stopped for breakfast at a small local café. When I went to pay the bill, the waitress told me that my bill was paid by the couple, who had sat at a nearby table. When I asked her how often such things happened, she said that I was the fifth one that day. So, that prompted me to do the same for a mom and her daughter at the table nearby.
Each day people perform acts of kindness for others, often anonymously. Since the fires in Paradise, California, we have been hearing stories of firefighters moving burning vehicles away to open a road for residents to get out of town and of their taking occupants of those cars to safety. We also have heard stories of people finding and caring for the animals left behind, and of pets finding their way back to their owners. In the midst of evening news shows, it is the last segment that tells good news “inspiring America,” or portraying heroic acts of mercy and kindness. Given the dark and often bewildering news clips of daily events, it helps to “rejoice in the Lord” whose love and care is incarnate in everyday ordinary folks.
What incredible things have you seen? Over what events do you rejoice? Where do you experience the joy of the Spirit as an unexpected grace in your life? Let us pray for each other to know the joy of spiritual longing:
O God, who desires us beyond our imagining,
Fill us with the joy that none can take away,
A joy in your presence, deeper than any sorrow,
A joy that surpasses understanding and surprises us,
A joy that delights in children’s laughter and
A joy that remembers kindnesses and passes
A joy that reminds us of the goodness of humanity
in the midst of tragedy, and
A joy that will be without end on our meeting
You face to face.