Today we are given a command: rejoice!
That's what the name Gaudete Sunday means. It comes from the antiphon at the beginning of today's Mass: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice." We heard it again in the second reading from 1 Thessalonians: "Rejoice always."
That's what this third Sunday is about. We wear rose, we light the pink candle, and we are told to rejoice, because we're almost to Christmas.
But sometimes, it's hard to rejoice.
We don't feel so joyful when we're sick - or someone we love is sick.
It's hard to rejoice when we don't like our job - or we're afraid because we can't find a job and don't know what to do.
We don't feel like rejoicing if we're struggling in a relationship or if we're disappointed in ourselves.
Rejoicing can be difficult in a broken world full of broken, incomplete people; so what do we do with this command from the Lord to rejoice? I think we find the answer in our first reading from the prophet Isaiah:
"I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul ..."
God is the joy of my soul.
The only way to find true, lasting joy in the world is if that joy is based in God. I'm not talking about just happiness. So many things promise that they'll make us truly happy: money, sex, fame, health, even relationships with others. All of these are good things - but only temporarily. Money runs out, our health goes away ... even in the holiest marriage, those two people cannot offer each other eternal joy.
We only find that in God.
And so, in this season of Advent, when we've been hearing over and over again, "be vigilant, be watchful for the Lord," we should also examine ourselves.
Is God the joy of my soul? Or do I look to lesser things to give me happiness and fulfillment? If you want to live a disappointed, joyless life, make something less than God the center of it. It's only when we treat the One who is most important like He is that we will find joy that doesn't go away. It's only when God is the cause of our joy that we can really follow the Scriptures and "rejoice always."
Let's be like John the Baptist. He lived in poverty and rejected fame. When asked if he was the Messiah or if he was Elijah back from the dead, he simply pointed towards the Lord. Nothing was more important for him.
Let's live out what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians by giving thanks in every circumstance. Do you want to be more aware of God's presence in your life? Thank him for everything, even when things are hard. Gratitude is a path straight to joy.
We are in a season of joy, a joy that shines out even in the darkness of winter and the brokenness of the world. Let that joy live in the innermost part of your heart. Put God first and you will always be able to rejoice.