Today Catholic Christians celebrate the Third Sunday of Advent.  This day is also known as Gaudete Sunday – the Sunday of Rejoicing.
This day is one of only two Sundays of the year when priests may wear rose-colored vestments.  If you have an Advent wreath at home, this is the day to light the rose-colored candle in addition to two violet ones.

The Scripture selections on this day bring nothing but good news.  In the Old Testament reading, for example, we hear Isaiah say that the spirit of the Lord is upon him because the Lord has anointed him.  As a result of this anointing, Isaiah is destined to do great things such as healing the broken hearted, releasing prisoners, and proclaiming a year of favor from the Lord.

And today, instead of having a psalm, we have part of the Magnificat, a prayer that Mary said based on Old Testament sayings.

In the New Testament reading, Paul gives us some tips about prayer and about testing all things that might come to us to see if they are good or evil.

And finally, the Gospel introduces us to Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, who assures people that he is not the Messiah.  Rather, he is the herald of the Messiah – the forerunner – destined to announce the Messiah’s coming.

The Scripture passages of today contain many deep themes.  Today, I will focus on just one theme – that of the concept of “joy.”

Before discussing joy in greater depth, however, let’s look at the story of a man who was known for his great joy.  His name was Billy Bray.

Billy Bray was born in Twelveheads, Cornwall, England on June 1, 1794, the eldest of three children born to William Bray, a miner, and his wife Ann.

When Billy and his siblings were very young, their father died, and their grandfather raised them.

One day, when the Protestant evangelist named John Wesley came to their town, Billy’s grandfather was converted and became a Methodist follower of John Wesley.  The grandfather tried to instill the principles of Methodism into his grandchildren.

When he was seventeen, Billy left home and went to work in Devon in a tin mine for seven years.  During his mining days, Billy became known for his drunken and riotous behavior.

In 1821, Billy married a lapsed Methodist woman named Joanna.  Together, they had seven children.

In 1823, Billy was involved in a mining accident and narrowly escaped with his life.  That was a wake up call for Billy.  Soon after the accident, he read John Bunyan’s book, Visions of Heaven and Hell.  That sufficiently brought him to God, and soon was attracted to a group of people who broke away from Methodism.  They called themselves Bible Christians.

Soon, Billy became a preacher known for his spontaneous outbursts of singing and dancing.  He was filled with joy, and his whole way of life became a testament to joy.  He thrived by conducting religious revivals characterized not only by preaching, but also by frequent shouting for joy.  In fact, Billy became known for his shouting and jumping for joy at the slightest provocation.  Some people even began calling him “Silly Billy.”

Billy became known as a man who lived what St. Paul tells us in today’s selection from his First Letter to the Thessalonians.  Specifically, Paul wrote: “Rejoice always.  Pray without ceasing.  In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (5: 16-18).

Billy Bray died on May 25, 1868.

From the St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, and from Billy Bray’s story, we can learn many things about joy.

First, unlike happiness that comes and goes depending on what is happening in our lives, joy is a deep sense of gratitude for being part of God’s creation.  Many people have compared it to the deep, still waters of a lake, while happiness and sadness, on the other hand, are like the ripples and waves on the top of the lake that come and go depending on the wind, rain, and other transitory elements.

Second, joy is especially related to thanksgiving.  That makes sense, for if we are filled with joy, we can’t help but be thankful to a loving God who has given us such a gift.  In fact, in St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, Paul told the early Church members to continually rejoice, pray, and give thanks.

And third, we need to say something about the concept of joy when we are experiencing tragedies in our lives.  Even then, we are called to give joyful thanks, for his eternal blessings trump our transitory problems.  One of the best pieces of Scripture that addresses how we should rejoice even in terrible times is from Habakkuk who writes:

For though the fig tree blossom not

nor fruit be on the vines,

Though the yield of the olive fail

and the terraces produce no nourishment,

Though the flocks disappear from the fold

And there be no herd in the stalls,

Yet I will rejoice in my saving God (3 17-18).

As we continue our life journeys this week, it would be a good idea to reflect on how we experience and show joy in our lives.

And that is the good news I have for you on this Third Sunday of Advent, 2017.

                                                                                                                                               

Story sources:

  • Contributors to Wikipedia. “Billy Bray.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, 4 August 2017.
  • “Billy Bray (1794-1868).”  UK Wells: Re-Open the Wells of Our Spiritual Heritage, no date.