Sunday of Joy? – Philippians 4:4-6 [Daily Devotional]

Philippians 4:4-6

Today is the Third Sunday of Advent and on most Advent Wreaths the candle that will be lighted is uniquely rose colored. While purple (violet) or blue is the color ordinarily associated with Advent, the candle and this day are different from the others. It has been traditionally called Gaudete Sunday, or Joy Sunday. The Latin title for this day comes from the introit that was traditionally sung on this Sunday: “Gaudete in Domino semper; iterum dico, gaudete.” This is the familiar Pauline passage from Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say rejoice.” This obvious emphasis on this day is the joyous anticipation of the coming of our Lord, as we are half way through our Advent preparations.

Today, however many of us do not feel any joy in our hearts. Evil struck an insidiously powerful blow to our collective hearts and minds on Friday when a gunman took the lives of 27 innocent people in Newtown, Connecticut. The pain is intensified for most of us because 20 of the victims were small children between the ages of 6 and 7 years old. How can we speak of joy and celebration when such a dark pall has been cast over us as a people? We are still sorting through our emotions, as they run the gamete from despair to anger, and from guilt to sorrow. We do not really know what to do, but to celebrate a day of joy may seem to be insensitive.

And yet nothing could be further from the truth.

There is a powerful and literally diabolical force of evil at work in our world. Some do not want to speak of the evil in our world in a personified way, but Jesus most certainly did. Satan, the prince of this world and father of all lies, delights in the darkness, despair and fear wrought by human tragedies. Psychologists, criminologists and law enforcement profilers will struggle to make sense of what has happened. (I applaud, admire and appreciate their work.) They will speculate about motives and forces at work within the life of the shooter. However, few of them will venture to even discuss the ultimate issue of the spiritual warfare that is ongoing between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world. It is not scientific and cannot be supported by empirical evidence, so talk of Satan or the devil is passé or outmoded.

While that may be their truth, it is not the truth of scripture, nor of Christian experience. I promise you that on Friday, while you and I were heartbroken over the horror that unfolded before us in the news, Satan laughed with delight. While we stood dumbfounded and perplexed that someone could even imagine committing such an unspeakable crime, Satan celebrated the darkness that descended upon us. How can such a deep darkness be dispelled?

In J.R.R Tolkkien’s Lord of the Ring: The Two Towers there is a fierce battle between humans and mindless Uruk-hai at the Hornburg in Helms Deep. When everything seems to be lost and the remaining humans are waiting to meet their doom, King Theoden reflects over the destruction that has come upon his people and he asks, “What can men do against such reckless hate?” Aragorn answers, “Ride out and meet it.” Like Theoden, we find ourselves in despair, asking his same question. We need to take Aragorn’s advice to ride out and meet it. While we cannot draw swords, mount up and ride against Satan and the evils of his kingdom, we are not helpless in this struggle.

If we were looking at the 6th chapter of Ephesians, this would be an excellent place to discuss putting on the full armor of God (check that out on your own). What we are looking at today is joy and celebration in the face of evil and darkness. It is fitting that we should rejoice today, and celebrate the joy of our coming king, for He alone is the light that will drive out this darkness that has descended upon us. To even tone down our celebration would be to give the victory to Satan and the forces of evil.

There was a report on the news that some people were taking down their Christmas decorations, because it seems wrong to celebrate during such a tragedy. While I understand their sentiment, to do so is to give in to the darkness that would envelope us. In the face of this tragedy we should join with Paul in saying, “Rejoice!” We should decorate as much as we can! Light festive candles and lift our voices as we sing our carols, songs and hymns louder and longer than ever! This is Gaudete Sunday and we will not yield to the forces of darkness! We will mourn our losses and shed many tears, but even with broken hearts we can rejoice.

(Photo by Reuters/Adrees Latif)

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