Have you ever heard of “foreboding joy”? That’s what Brene Brown (in The Power of Vulnerability) calls it when we prepare for the worst even when things are at their best.
Foreboding joy. I know it sounds like a contradiction in terms, but I’ll bet a lot of people feel something like it right now. Christmas is just ten days away, full of promise. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” says the song. But when the tinsel and wrappings are put away and the lights are taken down, there’s a good chance it might not live up to its promise.
I expect that’s why the Church frames this third Sunday of Advent with a command to Rejoice! “Gaudete (gaw-DAY-tay) Sunday,” it’s called, for the first word of the Introit sung at mass: Gaudete in Domino, semper gaudete – “Rejoice in The Lord always, again I say, rejoice.” Whatever else is going on in our lives right now, we rejoice because we know the Lord is near. And so everything this Sunday speaks of joy, down to the rose-colored candle on the Advent wreath and the priest’s rose vestments.
Brene Brown writes about how vulnerable joy makes us, because it sets us up to have our expectations squashed. In that thinking, it’s a bubble just waiting to be burst; hence it can be full of foreboding. And that’s where Christian joy makes a difference. It doesn’t originate in our circumstances and it doesn’t depend on chance happenings. It’s not a bubble, it’s a deep flowing stream. It’s a gift of the Holy Spirit that starts fills from the inside, giving strength and holding us steady.
Jesus says that when you have the joy he brings, “no one will take [it] away from you” (John 16:22). That doesn’t mean we’ll always be happy: but as St. Paul says, Christians can be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10 ESV). That means that even when we are sad or hurting or in pain, we can always have joy.
Instead of nurturing the “foreboding joy” that can easily creep up on me when I’m not watching, today I’m taking a cue from the liturgy and fostering free-flowing joy. Today, I choose to rejoice. The Lord is near! I will light my rose candle among the violet ones every day now as a reminder: the joy of Christmas is not the fleeting happiness of gifts and good food and celebrations, as good as those might be. It is the deep joy of the Lord coming into my heart and my life.
Have a joy-filled Advent!
And “may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope”! (Romans 15:13)
© 2019 Sarah Christmyer
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