‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.’ Philippians 4:4
Advent is the time of the church year that I long for, but when it arrives I find myself a little lost. With the local school we’ve been reflecting on the Advent Wreath and the meaning(s) of the candles. One of these reflections was based around the theme of Joy. I spoke of the joy that Mary had as being God’s chosen one, the joy of those who found the babe in the manger and the joy that we can share when we allow Jesus into our hearts.
However, joy has been a challenging thing to reflect on as part of my own spiritual practices. Advent can feel like trying to keep all the plates spinning. The run up to Christmas seems to bring an extra amount of work no matter what profession you are in. The extra pressure that the festive season brings in addition to our normal responsibilities means that Advent can be difficult to dwell in. I’ve also been contemplating how challenging Advent can be for Christians when the world around us tells us that Christmas is already here. ‘It starts earlier every year’ is a remark that I often hear. It feels as though Christmas started in late October when the shops started selling Christmas things. It is hard to keep Advent well, and it is even harder sometimes to be joyful.
St Paul urges us to ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’. There is no if’s, and’s or but’s, just always. We rejoice because we are given the gift of joy. Inevitably if there is something in our lives that gives us joy, we will rejoice because of it. And so this lack of joy can make it hard for us to adhere to St Paul’s words. ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’.
Perhaps its just that in Advent we aren’t always looking for joy. Perhaps we sometimes allow ourselves to get too involved in all the business of the season and then miss the opportunities for joy.
I’ve found though, that even through the things that can be the most difficult, that there is good- if we only look for it. Our church offers an annual ‘Memorial Carols’ service, where the congregation is invited to write the name of a lost loved one on a star and hang it on our tree. You would think that in a space where those attending are in various stages of grief that the service would be odd or uncomfortable. But actually it is because of that very reason that it feels beautifully sacred. Even in the tears of a person who has lost someone very dear to them, there is joy to be found in that they are not crying alone. There is joy in remembering and not forgetting. There is joy in working towards wholeness in a season that can feel so fractious.
We may not feel able to rejoice always, but if we are able to look out for the signs of joy perhaps we will get there.