The third week of Advent, the week of the rose candle and Gaudete Sunday, is a good thermometer of how your Advent is going. It is often a week of office Christmas parties and nervous clicking on “express shipping” icons. But there is a sure fire way to know if you are rejoicing about something.
The weeks of Advent have a logic to them, a spiritual rhythm. The first Sunday is our wake up call, when we are told to “throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12). We are told to be watchful and prepared for the Lord who comes like a thief in the night. I can’t help remembering an old commercial for Zest soap, whose selling point was the fact that its zesty scent somehow helps you wake up.
Whatever the rousing virtues of your toiletries, the emphasis is on our own action, the active purification we must undertake to cleanse our souls for Christ’s coming. Advent week one is “lather.”
By the second purple candle, we should have scrubbed and scratched and loufa-ed spots we haven’t hit in a while. The emphasis in week two is on letting God’s action work in us. John the Baptist calls us to a baptism of repentance, and we are to come forward and let the water cascade over us, already anticipating the celebration of Christ’s coming where “there shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).
As I tell my New Testament Greek class, “baptism,” when you parse out each part of the word, means “dunkification.” So the second week of Advent is a good thorough “rinse.”
And, since our purification is well under way and we see our former ways circling down the drain, in whichever direction our hemisphere demands, we can allow ourselves a moment to feel good about what God is doing in our lives, with our willing cooperation.
But there is feeling good and there is rejoicing. There is a half-smile and there is a happiness so amazing that it is incomplete when kept to oneself.
Back in 2001, when I lived in my native New York, we had a rough autumn if you recall. It seemed like everyone you met had lost someone on 9/11. My older brother lost several friends, including one of the groomsmen at his wedding. And the city rallied around the rallying New York Yankees who had a playoff run filled with last minute heroics.
I was in the basement of my house, watching game seven of the ALCS. Valerie, who watches sports for the same reason I watch chick-flicks (just to spend time with a spouse,) had fallen asleep in the 6th inning. It was the 11th inning. Aaron Boone hit a homerun off Boston’s Tim Wakefield and sent the Yankees to the World Series. I was jumping around in silence in my basement. About five minutes later, my brother called, saying, “I’m in Minneapolis on business, alone in a bar watching the game. Nobody realizes how amazing that just was.” My joy was not complete until that moment. It was a bonding moment I will remember forever.
Christ’s coming causes a joy like that. We were toast. By all rights, we were condemned. And He comes and wins the victory, and gives us hope. That is something to shout to the world, to share with the world, to complete our own joy by sharing how amazing that is.
Pope Francis, in his Sunday Angelus message, said “Now we are able to reopen our eyes, to overcome sadness and tears and to intone a new song. And this true joy remains even amidst trials, even in suffering, because it is not a superficial joy, but descends into the depth of the person who entrust himself to God and confides in Him.”
Yes, the Yankees lost that World Series. It was not a long-lasting joy. But the joy of Christ is eternal, and gives light even when life is throwing us knuckleballs.
Now it is 2013 not 2001, and there is a new way to see whether something is a joy to you. Did you retweet it? That seems to be the way people share joy these days. “This is funny enough for me to share.” “This is interesting enough for me to share.” And you share it with your followers (since Twitter makes everyone a guru…)
Is what God is doing in our lives something we are telling people about? It isn’t being preachy, it’s rejoicing. I saw a great movie, I read an awesome book (or blog post!), I whipped up a delectable recipe, and I want to share it with you because I care about you. And when I do, my joy gets even bigger, and the bond between us grows.
Lather, rinse, retweet. Cutesy, yes, but true.
Such is the rhythm of the first weeks of Advent. How do you plan to share the joy?