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!!”