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Sources of Joy

The third Sunday in Advent is widely marked as a time for thinking about the spiritual gift of Joy. Well at least, we may light a red candle among the other purple ones in the Advent wreath and tell the kids that it stands for Joy, alongside Hope, Peace and Love. So is that it then? A virtue/value/gift/aspiration that may or may not be connected with the approaching Christmas season, and should be distinguished from the excitement of more tangible gifts to come? Good luck with that.
For our more adult reflections on the theme it might help to remember that Advent is traditionally one of the two great seasonal fasts of the ancient Church, and that that the third Sunday of the four was a refreshment break from all the self-mortification, just like the fourth Sunday in Lent. Hence the Joy theme. Healthy Judeo/Christian theology has always depicted God as the source of much more pleasure than pain.
So our texts this week focus on God as our wellspring of Joy. As I wrote these words I am rather down with a cough and have only managed to record something about the Lesson and Psalm, which you can find heavily edited here…

The video I hope to produce in the next day or so about the Epistle and Gospel readings would say something like this…
While the Lesson and Psalm quite rightly tell us that we should rejoice about the wonderful things God does for us and our world, the NT readings point us toward even deeper sources of joy. In his letter to the church at Philippi, writing from a Roman prison cell, Paul exhorts them to rejoice on one ground alone: that “the Lord is near”, which is to say that God-in-Christ is a constant companion no matter what hardships they may endure. Then Luke, in his distinctive additions to the traditions about John the Baptist’s proclamation makes an equally important point about Joy without mentioning it at all. By telling his audience that in order to respond to God’s demands they must take some very practical steps to live justly with one another, he is in fact directing them to experience what we should all know intuitively, that when we care for one another we do tend to be happier than if we just look after our own interests. You know, the second great commandment about loving our neighbour as ourselves, and the saying about giving being more blessed than receiving, and so on….

Have a joyful Advent!

Howard Pilgrim

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