Dear Saint Anselm’s,
This Sunday has been known as Gaudete Sunday in the western Church for a very long time. The origins of the season of Advent are as old as the 5th century. Its name is taken from the introit, the entrance song that was proper to the third Sunday of Advent. Here is that entrance song rendered in our English, based on Paul’s letter to the Philippians in chapter 4 and on Psalm 85:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.
‘Have no anxiety about anything’! Here in 21st century America just to be asked not to be anxious can make us anxious. But do note. We are neither asked nor expected to bring ourselves to that state of inner and outer peace, free of anxiety and immune to deep stress. We are simply asked to live consistently in this way: handing over our sources of anxiety and stress to God in prayer. Simply letting God know what is going on. Handing it over. This is the time-honored path to peace.
And it opens the way to what this Sunday encourages and celebrates: Joy. We are bid to rejoice. In terms of this season, we are bid to rejoice because the Lord Jesus, and the celebration of his birth, is coming ever nearer. But let me ask you: what gives you joy? Keep in mind as you consider this question that ‘joy’ is not the same as ‘happiness.’ Happiness comes and goes like the weather, and is based on all sorts of fleeting things. Joy is based on deeper foundations, deep within, where the human spirit meets the divine. Joy, when we are found by it, endures.
Is this joy yours? Maybe yes, maybe no. Maybe it was at one time and living on has seemingly erased it. But if you have ever known it, then you know how real it is. How genuine. How actual. How perfectly matched to human need and desire. And if you have never known it, good news! This is your time.
And best of all. This joy is available. Hand over the sources of anxiety. They may remain in your living, but your relationship to them will shift. You will be free. And then, just open to joy.
I pray joy will be yours this Gaudete Sunday, this Christmas, and always!