“Rejoice always in the Lord…”

Gaudete Sunday is today!! What is that? It is the 3rd Sunday in Advent on the western calendar. Gaudete comes from the first word of the entrance antiphon for that day, from Philippians 4: 4,5 and it says, “Rejoice always in the Lord,” or in Latin, “Gaudete in Domino semper.”

It is the Sunday before the Birth of Christ where we think joyously of the Lord coming into this dark, cold, world. “Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth.” Ps 65:1 and “…let them be jubilant with joy!” Ps 67:30. These were the Psalms I read this week. And somehow, I just cannot get the concept of “joy” out of my mind. There is hustle and bustle. There are plans. There is baking (don’t judge me – haven’t baked at all, yet). Decorations to set up. Trees to assemble. Gifts to buy and, for some, to ship across the country. There are Winter Concerts to attend. There are opportunities to interact with our friends and family more often. There are so many Christmas movies on Netflix and Hallmark to watch. And there are more services at Church to attend, to help us prepare. So much going on that we normally are not doing.

We set up our manger scene at the base of our tree, in the front. Our Wise Men are perched nearby on a window sill. They are present, but not in the main scene quite yet. Their time will come soon. Usually I play a game with my kids and hide the baby Jesus all over the house. I tell them that every day we are supposed to be seeking the Christ Child in our lives. So go out and look! I am pretty creative at hiding him. This year, my baby is 21 years old. He’s sort of outgrown it, so the baby Jesus is laying there, all ready for our celebration of His birth, under our tree. We also have a puppy this year and we keep a weathered eye on him, making sure he is not eating the tree or anything on it, or under it.

But this essence of Joy seems fleeting and in short supply this year. And then it hit me. We are looking for happiness, not joy: Happiness is an emotion in which one experiences feelings ranging from contentment and satisfaction to bliss and intense pleasure. Joy is a stronger, less common feeling than happiness.” That is according to “define.com” And that is a practical comparison. I have another one. “It is not from external circumstances but internal attitudes sorrows and joys are born.” St. John Chrysostom. And from a friend’s Spiritual Father: “Acquire joy, not happiness. Happiness is temporary, whereas joy is eternal and can only be found in Christ.”

We have Santa Claus, which is translated from St. Nicholas, who was a Bishop in modern-day Turkey. The one we see today is a caricature of the real St. Nick, the real man, who lived and defended the faith. He was a generous man and he gave freely to others. We have sort of transformed him into lots of things he was not. But we have always felt that the intercession of St. Nicholas (who is the patron of Families) has saved our Christmases in years when we did not think we would be able to have one, and who has interceded for our family for the past 35 years. We were married on the feast of the Holy Family and for our first anniversary, we baptized our first son. The priest took the baby Jesus out, and laid our baby in the manger scene on the altar. It was pretty amazing. And it meant so much to my husband and myself. St. Nicholas has been a part of our family since its inception and we keep an icon of him up all year, as well as an artistic rendering on a nightstand. Santa Claus can obscure the season and the chaos can drown out the reason for it all. That joy can be hard to uncover. But Santa is also one of the ways we keep our historical traditions alive, and I love collecting Santa figurines from around the world. He is the example of the joy in giving we need to find this Christmas.

However you celebrate the season, know that this year is unique. You cannot repeat the memories of your childhood, nor can you recreate days from when your kids were little. We have today. We have this Christmas. The joy of this season, and of our faith; it is an eternal joy. Don’t block that joy, looking for happy moments. Make this the Christmas you recall with joy and love; let that memory make you happy years down the road. Make this Christmas be the most joyous Christmas you have ever had. Make those around you know how much you love them. Let the Lord see you be jubilant with joy” and hear that joyful noise to God.” And feel free to feel joyful today, Gaudete Sunday!

“Rejoice always in the Lord!!”

“…and that time is near.”

As many of you know, we got a Standard Poodle puppy in August. He is now 9 months old. His name is Kolbe. I took that photo above a few minutes ago. It is less than 20-degrees outside and he is looking in the window. He’s been running around the yard, and because it started to snow again (there is snow on his nose) he now wants inside. He is so funny. He does not howl or bark or scratch to be let in the house. He goes to whatever window he thinks you are hiding behind and jumps up and stares you down. It gets light around 10 am or so. Yesterday morning I was in the master bathroom around 8:30 AM and I hear his feet on the windowsill outside (the blinds were still shut). I made my way to the kitchen and he had already run around the yard to the door (we have an acre) and was waiting to be let in. He was so happy with himself, and I was amazed he thought that out and ignored all the dark windows, just going to the one that was lit. Our older dog (aged 14), Poca, sleeps with my son when he is here. When he gets up, she gets up. Sometimes it is not until 11am! So, she was still snoring with my son when Kolbe was running around like a crazy man in the dark, having a ball in the snow.

They are both currently snoring at my feet, having had enough of the cold temps and falling snow. And I just laugh at it all. Here in Alaska, it has not felt like we are getting closer to Christmas. On Thanksgiving, we still had green grass; where friends in California were in white out conditions in the desert, got 6″ of snow, and were having a blast. Friends in Big Bear, CA were actually stuck at their cabin. And pundits were lambasting us about climate change and the warming, etc. My eyeballs and ears hurt with it all. My brain fried a little bit. Then it started to snow…just two days after Thanksgiving. And it has not really stopped for too long since it began again to really snow, this Saturday evening. Hubby used his snowblower on Sunday and now you can’t even tell he was out there.

I just chuckle at all the doomsday people. Weather has become a religion to so many. And it makes me sad. Using a young person who has no scientific training to espouse your theories is almost like child abuse, to me. I’ve read some interesting articles from experts who work in climate science who tell us that, “Yes, climate is changing. It is always changing.” (My weather app is hilarious. “What the forecast – WTF.” He posted something like, “Meteorologist: at what other job can you get paid so well to be wrong 75% of the time? Ha-Ha. Cracks me up). It is not the carbon footprint I leave. It is not too many people. The smog in China still bugs me, so perhaps that does not help. But overall, the earth is doing its own thing and we are too small to have that much of a measurable affect. The ozone has actually healed itself. The earth did not end when the last pundits (aka Al Gore and others) said it would, and I don’t think Kamala Harris or the “Squad” in DC has any inside info to back their idea it will end in 12 years and that we desperately need that “Green Deal.”

Not to get too political or anything, but you know, it is sort of silly. It makes mankind look like he is all that and a slice of bread. And no, I am not going to change my pronoun usage at this stage of my life. “You know all things: the last and the first…” Psalm 138:5 This was part of my Psalter readings for today. And it truly struck me. God knows ALL things. He knows the beginning and everything in between, until the end. The great writer stands with His timeline and knows and sees it all, from one end to the other. Where is mankind in all of this? Scattered all along that timeline. The Lord of All has all this in hand. Whether it be that Hawaii becomes a ski resort with slopes and sleds, and the Siberian Steppes become a desert oasis with lake front cottages, should not concern us. Mankind, and all the creatures He created, will adapt. We will migrate to wherever it is the Lord has prepared for us. But nothing even remotely like that is happening in 12 years, my friend. That is a millennium of work for the earth to change that much. And having lots of children does not affect that. We, just the USA, can feed the world – the entire world – and have leftovers to take to work on Monday. So food is not an issue, either. But mankind is the issue. Well, the power brokers up on that top shelf, the ones who make all these calamitous decisions for power, are the issue. And we need to just say no.

“Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.” Psalm 132:1 We can dwell in unity if we turn, once again, our faces towards God. If we stop falling for anything that leaves the lips of those who have no faith in God, nor a care for their fellow man. “Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us, for we have had enough of contempt.” Psalm 122:3 Our Christian faith is under attack around the world. In this country, there are “Muslim Community Patrols” in cities on the East Coast (Brooklyn, NY is one). If you deride Muslims in any way, you can be ticketed or even arrested. Is this what our world, our country, is coming to? And in Britain? Or the Netherlands? France? Germany? Oh my gosh, look at what is happening in Iran! Dissenters are being shot in the streets. Our faith and our country are being attacked on a daily basis, through our own media outlets. Misguided and badly informed reporters and “news” outlets make the citizens of this country think the USA is falling apart, and is in terrible condition. It is not. But that does not fit their narrative. There are fewer unemployed than in over 50 years. There are states, who voted purely democratic in the last election, and not a single one has job losses – they all have gains. Prices are dropping. The Federal Reserve is being pressured to drop interest rates. The sky is not falling, people!

“Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 123:8 The Lord who created every spec of who and what we are, and where we live, will not abandon His creation. He may allow us to wallow in our mistakes, but He is forever merciful. Sometimes we all need a lesson well learned. “It was good for me that You have humbled me, that I might learn your statutes.” Psalm 118:71

The Lord has given me so much. And in my careless youth, I squandered those gifts, much like the Prodigal Son. But the Lord allowed me to be humbled, so that I might learn from my mistakes, and see His instruction for the wondrous gift that it is – for me, and for each of us, who accepts His rebuke, and His mercy.

Do I have that inebriate joy my puppy does, so that I roll in the snow in single-digit temperatures? No, I do not. Do I have the joy on a child’s face, when they get to see the beautiful lights decorating our trees for Christmas? Sometimes; some of the time, I do not. My spirit feels battled some days and I want to pull the covers over my head and just not “adult” that day. But, thanks be to God, I have this rambunctious puppy who is in love with life, to encourage me to get out of bed (yeah; he jumps on the bed or licks my hand until I get up). And now, when I think of all the work that is involved with Christmas, I sigh and sort of don’t want to do it. Lots of friends no longer decorate or bake because they have empty nests. Why bother when there are no children to see Christmas, and to share in the joy with us? Well, I think the Lord wants us joyful and celebratory, even if we live alone. His joy is for us. His life was for us. The least we can do is wear an ugly Christmas sweater, or drink some eggnog, or bake a neighbor some cookies; hang some lights, put up a wreath, get some poinsettias. We should still live the liturgical year. This is Advent. We are preparing for the entrance into the world of the baby Jesus, our Lord and Savior. He came, He promised, and He saved us all. All we have to do is accept His gift and ignore all the flotsam and jetsam, all the chaos and cruelty, and believe. I believe. Do you?

My husband, the old curmudgeon, stubbornly participated in putting decorations on the house, at my request. He wasn’t planning on it, not really. But I asked for our inflatable/lit manger scene and our lit, 8-foot-tall, iron moose in the front yard. That was really all I wanted. It makes me happy. Well, he sort of got into the spirit and we have lit garland on our front door; the moose and manger are up, and there are lights on the front of the house. But when he went to get some more hangers for the lights, he bought me a surprise. He got ornaments for my favorite tree out back. When I sit in the living room, it is what I look out at and I just love it. It used to be surrounded by Birch trees and undergrowth, but he cut it all away this summer. The tree got sunlight and it is just turning out to be a lovely Spruce tree. I just really like it. So without my knowledge, he hung ornaments on it for me, in the snow. He promised lights for it when he returns from his business trip on Thursday. Will anyone else see the tree? Probably not, since it is in our fenced back yard. Our grandchildren might, if everyone stays healthy and we can actually do Christmas with them. But he did that for me. Just for me and my Christmas spirit. And he was really smiling. Because the good he did made him feel good, too.

“…But where there are good relationships, where love binds the family together and to God, there happiness is always to be found.” St. Seraphim of Sarov

You can barely see the ornaments, but in real life, they are much clearer. And I rejoice each time I see it. It gives me such hope. If one, little act of kindness, can have such a lasting affect on me, can you imagine what we all could do if we chose to follow God’s precepts, to truly love even our enemy? We would erase so much evil in this world. The silent majority, the Christians who out-number all other beliefs (yes, even Muslims) need to stop being so quiet. We need to be kind, but we need to make some noise! We need to call out injustice and lies and malfeasance when we see it. We need to say no, and to know when enough is enough. Have you drawn your line in the sand, yet? I have. If each of us did that, decided where we stood on important matters like faith and freedom, and chose to stand for those beliefs, Christmas would be celebrated in every country, in every home, and in every heart. And so for me, I anticipate this Christmas with a loving and excited heart; a heart filled with hope. I cannot wait for Christ to enter into this world, once again, at the cave in Bethlehem.

Happy Advent – “The Virgin is on her way….”