This past Sunday as I lit the pink candle on my Advent wreath, it sputtered and sparked as if it were fighting itself to remain lit. The pink candle represents joy. The third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete means Rejoice in Latin.
My candle’s fight to burn was a reminder to me that sometimes we fight joy. We don’t fight happiness (though some folks seem to have the disposition of Eeyore, always looking for the downside of every event or opportunity). Many of us spend our lives pursuing happiness, but often, that very pursuit keeps us from joy. In fact, the ways we pursue happiness may be seen as a fight against joy because it keeps us always on the surface, rooted shallow. It’s kind of like trying to satisfy hunger with junk food. It may work temporarily, but the deep need for food remains unmet.
Joy is not dependent on our happiness. The seed of joy often finds its most hospitable soil for germination in suffering and struggle. When we have found ourselves in deep darkness, when we have fallen into the abyss of despair and still found God’s presence there, we know what joy is. Joy is the sense of rootedness in the heart of Christ that allows us to endure even in the midst of great difficulty.
If there ever was a year we need joy, it is this one. From the pandemic to racial strife to a divisive election season, there have been many reasons to despair. So many people around the world have died or continue to struggle because of Covid-19. Here in the United States we realized afresh that we have not made as much progress toward liberty and justice for all as we might like to think we have. And we also realized that despite being the United States of America, we are not as united as our name would suggest.
We live in a time where the fires of fear and hate are being stoked daily, and yet, we have lit a candle that says “Rejoice.” Joy is not denial of our circumstances, but the awareness that in the very muck and mire and ugliness that competes for our attention, a shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1). God is not absent when the darkness is its darkest. A single pink candle keeps the darkness at bay. It is a testament of resistance.
My prayer for you is that in a moment of stillness and quiet, you sense the joy of God’s ever-abiding presence. May you feel yourself rooted and grounded in the strong love of God, and celebrate, with wonder, that God was hopeful enough about humanity to enter the world as one of us.