On the third Sunday of Advent, we light the Joy candle. Advent is a solemn time of fasting and preparation, and yet also we have the joy of what is to come, the birth of a baby who changed the world.
At this time of year, we are urged to remember that not everyone finds Christmas a happy time. There are those who have suffered at this time of year and find the memory of old hurts and deep griefs amplified by their contrasts with the gaiety of Christmas. There are those who are worried that they cannot fulfil the hopeful wishes of expectant children and who may end up getting into debt and struggling to try to manage. There are those who are lonely and who, faced with the television’s relentless reminder that, according at least to the programmers, Christmas is all about family and coming home for the season, feel depressed and anxious that their lives do not look like that.
We are not wrong, and we are never wrong, to remind ourselves that not everyone sees the world as we do, and that things that may be lovely for us may be less so for others. However, we might also remember that we celebrate Christmas as the birthday of our Saviour, Lord and King. That we celebrate Christmas as the beginning of a 33-year story that culminates in Good News for all, joy to the world and death is not the end.
Joy is a more deep-rooted experience than happiness and can, I would suggest, exist even alongside sadness. It is an experience that recognises that when Julian of Norwich said “All will be well, and all will be well and all manner of things will be well,” she wasn’t being trivial but deeply, truthfully speaking out an absolute belief in the depth of the care of God for God’s people. Joy is a grateful optimism that believes that this is true not just for Julian of Norwich but for all people and at all times. That we are loved, and cared for and that because of this love, Jesus was sent. “God so loved the world, that he sent his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) It is in the recognition of this faith that we light the Joy candle this week, as we prepare for the moment when the angels sang “Joy to the world and on earth peace and goodwill to all people.”