Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near…. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. —Philippians 4:4-5,7
We light the pink candle on the Advent wreath today. This is “Gaudete” Sunday, which is Latin for “rejoice.” During Advent, we are watching and waiting for the coming of Jesus in three ways: in the past, the present, and the future. We tell stories and remember his birth as a baby in the past. We look for how he comes into our lives and hearts here and now. Finally, we anticipate his future second coming in glory. The pink candle is a symbol of joy that the waiting is almost over. (This is contrary to what I heard as a kid that the pink candle stood for Mary’s hope that she would have a girl.)
When St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always … the Lord is near,” he thought that Jesus was going to return to earth again any day. Pretty much all of Jesus’ early followers thought the same, and that allowed some of them to endure horrific violence while remaining joyful. Unlike Paul, I haven’t lived my life presuming Jesus will come in glory during my lifetime. I find it more helpful to understand Paul’s comment that “the Lord is near” in the present sense. The Lord is present in all the people who surround me, those I know and those I don’t know. God’s Spirit is at work here and now, so why should we wait to rejoice on some future date? Even though we may be experiencing pain or grief and even though there is still terrible suffering in the world, rejoicing now seems like a beautiful, subversive act that will be good for us and the world.
For prayer: Make a list of things you have to be grateful or joyful about, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. For example, do we ever rejoice that so many airplanes land safely and get their passengers to their loved ones? Do we ever rejoice that millions of teachers, health care workers, bus drivers, and utility line technicians get up and go to work faithfully every day to make our lives run more smoothly? Let your mind keep roaming to these things today, and when you think of something to rejoice in, say a prayer of thanksgiving to God.