12/15/13, Joy to the World

Isaiah 35:1-6,10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

Catholics mark this third Sunday of Advent as Gaudate Sunday.  We might also call this Sunday “lighten up” Sunday.  Our colors move from deep blue to rose and the focus is on the word JOY. On this day, we light the rose-colored third candle on the Advent wreath.

Advent is meant to be a rather somber season, calling us to reflect on the state of our lives. We are reminded that time is short; we should get our act together.  But on Gaudete Sunday, the mood shifts to a sense of joyous anticipation.  “The Lord is near.” Get ready to celebrate!

The word “Gaudate” is Latin for “Rejoice.”  This is reflected in the Old Testament reading for today, “The exiles will enter Zion shouting for joy; everlasting joy on their faces; joy and gladness will go with them and the tongues of those who are mute will sing for joy.”  Joy is the word for today! 

Churches that follow the liturgical calendar regard Advent as a season distinct from Christmas.  It’s easy to lose sight of this in our consumer culture that puts Christmas decorating and gifting in front of us for most of November and December.  There are radio stations that play Christmas music nonstop from Thanksgiving onward.  Tradition, however, says that Christmas carols are not to be sung until we enter the 12 days of Christmas from Dec. 25- January 5. 

I have a little problem with that rule when we get to Guadate Sunday, because the song my heart wants to sing is “Joy to the World, the Lord is Come.”    And guess what?  It’s actually a more appropriate hymn for the third week of Advent than it is for the Christmas season.  Let me tell you why.

Joy to the World was written in 1719 by Isaac Watts, who based it on Psalm 98:

Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. Sing unto the LORD with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm. With trumpets make a joyful noise before God. Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together. Before the LORD; who with righteousness shall judge the world, and the people with equity.


If you listen carefully to the song, Joy to the World you will notice there is nothing about shepherds, a manger, wise men, angels, Mary, Joseph or the baby Jesus. That’s because Isaac Watts did not write Joy to the World as a Christmas song. What Watt’s was thinking of when he wrote this hymn was the coming of God’s Kingdom in its fullness.  


As we have been together over the past several years, our Lumen Christi community has come to realize more clearly through our study of the gospels that Jesus had one overarching message in his teaching and healing and ministering of miracles.  He said to his disciples that the Kingdom of God was already in their midst.  He was a citizen of it.  They were citizens of it!  Jesus preached that the Kingdom of God is ready to blossom into its fullness as we human beings take up the task that he taught and demonstrated in his own life.  He charged us with being the ones to bring justice and peace to the world we live in.  Joy to the World is a song that summarizes what the world will be like when God’s intention for it is fulfilled through our work of bringing peace and justice to pass.   There will be great joy, with all nature singing about it and human beings ecstatic that sin and sorrow no longer holds power over them. This is the hope that Christ came to show us through the way he lived and died.


But we don’t have to wait to experience joy until that vision of Kingdom fullness comes to pass.  JESUS WAS A PERSON WHO LIVED WITH JOY!  Joy is an inner peace that can become a way of life for us as we learn to live the present moment with conscious attention to the reality of God’s love.  Scripture tells us that joy is a fruit of the Spirit.  As we cultivate it, this fruit grows in us along with love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control.   As we mature into people who know deep inside that God loves us,  it possible that even in the midst of pain and suffering  we can hold on to a deep inner peace and contentment. That’s joy!

Happiness, on the other hand, is the passing feeling of pleasure we experience when good things happen to us or for us. We know that in this life, good things are intermixed with bad things. Bad things happen to good people.  The feeling of happiness that we love so much disappears quickly under painful circumstances. Yet if we have cultivated our trust in Christ’s promise that we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, joy can sustain us even when happiness is absent.


How wonderful; to celebrate this third week of Advent as a reminder that joy can be ours in the midst of seasons of darkness.  And it’s certainly appropriate, that we sing with enthusiasm the song that Isaac Watts wrote nearly 300 years ago.  I invite you to join in the song this morning.  Tuck it away in your hearts as a song to sing all the year through as Christian faith carries you joyfully even when circumstances are less than happy.    

by Sandi DeMaster