Advent 3B ‘23
17 December 2023
I Thess. 5.16-24; John 1.6-8, 19-28
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone <+> 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The traditional name for this third Sunday in Advent is “Gaudete” which is Latin and means “joy”. Our advent wreath now has three candles that have been lighted – the third candle isn’t blue but is pink in color. This pink candle is sometimes called the candle of Joy. This Sunday of joy is based upon on our scripture readings particularly St. Paul’s admonition from his letter to the Thessalonians to “Rejoice always!”[1]

In today’s liturgy there will be less emphasis on our repentance and more emphasis on the experience of light and joy that can be ours even when we feel that we are surrounded by darkness.  

These liturgical symbols are outward and visible signs of the spiritual truth that it truly is ‘darkest before the dawn.’ In our reading from the prophet Isaiah, we are reminded of those among us who in this present darkness are being oppressed by powerful forces, reminded of those who are brokenhearted or are imprisoned by literal or metaphorical prison bars and we’re reminded that there are those among us who are in the depths of grief and are mourning the loss of significant others that they were so very close to. For these, joy seems very hard to come by.

Perhaps part of the difficulty is in understanding the difference between happiness and joy. Joy and happiness are not the same thing. The Latin root for happiness is the word “hap” the same root for words like hap-pen and hap-hazard. These words give us clues to the fact that happiness is dependent upon our circumstances – it is to be found in the things that happen to us and around us. Special occasions like our wedding day or the birth of a child, or a graduation are times of great happiness.

 Joy, on the other hand, is something that runs much deeper and is based upon God’s abiding and unconditional love for us. It is not based upon anything or anyone that can be taken from us.

St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians reminds us that joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit. This joy is something that we certainly can’t work up on our own it comes as an act of grace. Theologian Paul Tillich reminds us of this when he wrote: Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life… It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure has become intolerable to us. . It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted… After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed.”[2]

Perhaps it is during times like these with the approaching holidays when we experience a great irony. We believe that what we ought to be feeling is happiness but instead it’s ‘Bah Humbug’ and the cold breath of darkness breathing down our necks.

Another admonition from St. Paul encourages us to give thanks in all circumstances. Notice he did not say give thanks for all circumstances. God is not the author of death but is the author of life. Though we cannot and should not give thanks for tragedy and loss we can give thanks in the situation. We can give thanks that somehow God will be working out his will. We can give thanks for the loving community that surrounds us with fresh expressions that somehow life will go on. We can give thanks that when life grows really dark we don’t have to see or understand everything around us. We can give thanks that not even death can separate us from the love of God.

The third Sunday of Advent is about our need for this breakthrough of grace like Tillich mentions where the light breaks through our personal darkness and we move from despair to a joyous hope and then to take our experience of the light and to shine it into the dark places.

Spiritual darkness and despair can confront us anytime but it seems that it’s during the holidays that we are especially vulnerable to them. The antidote is to choose to rejoice always, to choose to give thanks in all the circumstances we find ourselves and by taking the light of Christ into the dark places of our world. We serve as reminders that death is not final and despair is not fatal. When we in spite of the circumstances walk as children of the light, we bring hope. Noted author and Episcopalian, Madeline L’Engle captures the essence of the hope we can bring:

‘We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.’




[1] I Thessalonians 5.16NRSV

[2] Tillich, Paul. The Shaking of the Foundations, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1955) Chap.19