To spend time in Advent in the company of the prophets is to open ourselves up to the great and costly truth that the world is God’s and can be lived in peaceably and joyfully only by people who know who they are and whose they are. In that sense, we are all called to be prophets, in that we point to the bigger narrative of which we are a part; we point towards the action of God in Jesus Christ, and prepare ourselves to live in the world that God has made. — Jane Williams, The Art of Advent, Day 8
In some Advent traditions, today is Gaudete Sunday, Joyful Sunday. It comes from an old tradition of Advent as a time of repentance leading up to the celebration of Christmas. At one time, Advent was a time to think on the ‘Four Last Things’: Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. For some, Advent is still a time of fasting, like Lent.
So the Third Sunday of Advent became a little break from the focus on the Four Last Things, a time to focus on joy. One sign of that can be a pink candle, though ours is still purple. (One thing I’ve decided: God is less concerned with the colours we use that almost anything else. The colours are for our benefit, not for God’s.)
Giving you this potted history helps to understand why the readings for the Third Sunday of Advent direct us to joy. Isaiah 35 begins,
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
I wish that were the case right now in Australia. Instead, the land burns and is laid waste, and the powers that be do anything except address the issue. Perhaps true joy, deep joy, comes once hardship is faced and lives changed so that we can feel a worthwhile, lasting joy—along with peace and hope and love, the Advent themes that we are more familiar with.
Perhaps there’s no joy until we face the pain of our land, which goes beyond those unprecedented fires. This pain includes the frontier wars that decimated the first peoples, who today are still not recognised as they should be. This pain is a result of greed, which means that water is not allocated properly.
Pain runs deep in our country, and it will not be patched over. Until the roots of its pain are addressed, we shall not know true joy.
Advent is about looking for Jesus as he comes to us; does he come to us in painful times? Is he ‘Emmanuel, God with us’ through those times?