3rd Sunday of Advent
But the angel said to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid, for see—I am bringing you news of great joy for all the people. ~ Luke 2:10
Observe and contemplate. The cosmos and our little earth. Observing, we affirm the worth of suns and stars and light unfurled. So, let us, seeing, celebrate the glory of Love’s incarnate birth. And sing its joy to all the world. ~ Madeline L ‘Engle
Every year during Advent we light a candle for Joy. This candle is different from the purple advent candles for Hope, Peace, and Love. The candle for Joy is pink like a rose. That’s interesting.
We call the Advent candle for Joy the Shepherd’s Candle because it reminds us of the joy the shepherd’s experienced while tending their flocks by night and suddenly the glorious light of the celestial sky opened before them. I imagine they soaked in the heavenly starlight, and they knew that light was “good news of great joy for all people.”
What is joy and can we live in joy?
Do we take time in the hustle and bustle of our lives “to pause along the way, to notice anew, to walk alongside, and to observe in wonder”? And, when we stop and reflect, we are “surprised by joy” as C.S. Lewis said.
For me, maybe you, joy always shows up unannounced but welcomed. When I go to the high desert in the springtime, I walk up and down sandy trails with red canyon walls rising all around me. Patches of snow dot the desert landscape. I step forward and a lizard scurries just in front of my feet. I jump even though the lizard is smaller than my index finger. The lizard blends into the grey rock and blond sand, and I watch her breathe in and out for a moment. All is well.
The spring sun breaks out from behind the clouds and her rays warm my body from head to toe. I stand still and breathe in and out just like my little lizard friend basking on her rock. A sense of fullness and goodness fills me as my fears and worries melt away under the sun. The stillness of the desert moves me into an interior silence that must be a glimpse of heaven. Joy, I believe.
Father Ron Rolheiser says, “Joy fills us with a sense of life and health in some inchoate way, we feel our body, mind, soul, gender, sexuality, history, place within a family, network of friends, city, and country, and this feeling makes us spontaneously exclaim, ‘God it’s good to be alive!’ That’s joy.”
Imagine the shepherds watching their sheep, just another mundane night of work. Are they tired, full of worry, weighed down with burdens? How often do we walk through life numb to the beauty, the wonder, and the joy all around us?
But this night is different for the shepherds. The night sky lights up, and the glory of creation shines all around them. They hear the singing of angels, and they are “surprised by joy.” Joy finds us “precisely within our ordinary, duty bound, burdened, full-of-worries and pressured lives,” says Rolheiser.
“We do not find joy. It has to find us.” Perhaps we walk to our car after a long day of work, tired and exasperated, we notice the stars overhead and joy floods our soul. We hold a new-born baby and joy overwhelms us. “We don’t manufacture joy, we collapse into it,” writes Rohr.
Have we been “surprised by joy”? Have we heard the angels singing? Has glory shined all around us?
My Uncle Allen was a shepherd with a flock of sheep in southeast South Dakota. He spent a lot of time outside under the vast Dakota skies where the prairie reaches beyond the eye. The plains like the desert are a place of quiet solitude. I wonder what he dreamed and thought about while tending his sheep. Did he, as L ’Engle wrote, “Observe and contemplate. The cosmos and our little earth,”? Did joy find him when the ewes gave birth to lambs? Did he hear the angels singing “glory of Love’s incarnate birth”?
Recently, my Uncle Allen passed away. He requested that his family bury him with his “pink” shepherd’s cane. The color of joy. I believe Uncle Allen intuitively knew he was embarking on a journey of boundless joy. I believe joy was in him and he knew that his joy would be complete (see John 15:11).
This Christmas season may we pause and look up into the night sky, who knows what we will see.
May we look down at our feet and see what little wonders may be passing by.
May we cup our ears and listen for the sounds of new life around us.
May joy surprise us.
Blessings and peace,