The holidays are a time of festivity and merriment, but for many they can also be a time of great pain and suffering. And indeed, Advent is a time to prepare ourselves for the Lord’s coming through repentance, penance, and self-sacrifice. But it is also a time for great joy. How can we find joy this Advent, even if we are experiencing pain or loss? And how can we balance the penitential aspect of Advent with the joy of the season?
Recently on St. Joseph’s Workshop, Fr. Matthew Spencer, OSJ discussed the nature of joy and how Advent and joy are, in fact, inseparable. He said:
“As priests, we see this quite a bit. We see people’s suffering, we see a lot of people missing loved ones. And for some reason, the pain becomes very acute when we reach those times of the year when we’re used to spending them with family members, used to spending them with friends who might no longer be with us anymore.
That’s why it might be hard to imagine joy as a characteristic of the Advent season. Because, for a lot of people, they don’t feel joyful. Not only that, Advent is a little Lent. A little, mini Lent in which we practice self-denial, in which we practice fasting and abstinence. I hope you’re doing that anyway! I hope you’re practicing a little bit of self-denial, which isn’t always the first thing we think of when it comes to joy and when it comes to Advent. These don’t always seem to be elements of our lives that correspond together. That is to say, when I’m fasting I’m not always joyful.
Joy, inside of our Christian tradition, is not happiness. It’s not a feeling. It’s not just a disposition. Instead, joy is a state of being. Joy is a realization that you and I are loved. That Jesus came to earth to care for us, to give His life for each one of us, that He continues to pour out His abundance of grace upon us.
And this is why, no matter how much suffering we have, no matter how much pain there is in the world, you and I need to have joy. And I guess when you stop and think about it, I would hope, when you define joy in that way, when you define joy not as a feeling, not as just an experience of things going right or having what your heart desires – but instead that decision or that realization that we are loved by God. And therefore, in the midst of great suffering, in the midst of great trial, we can rejoice. We can recognize that we are loved and that nothing can take that away.
That’s what this season needs to be characterized by. That’s what this season needs to be filled with. If you and I are recognizing how important Christmas is for us – not because of the external materialistic things, or because of the great family dinners, and the great memories we share – but because Jesus became a child for you and for me.
He became a defenseless little human being in the arms of Joseph and Mary, so that you and I might also be able to have God in our midst and not be afraid, not be discouraged by our own sinfulness, but might approach God who makes Himself present before us, humbly, tenderly, in the form of a little child.
Joy is not just the expression that we have on our face. Joy is certainly not just the emotions we feel in our hearts. But it is the air that we breathe, it is the lifeblood of our Christian existence that seeks to fan the flame of love inside of us. It’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit … and therefore when we have the Spirit in our heart we need to be living with joy in our lives.
But here’s the point. Jesus never said that the world would give us joy. Jesus never said to find our joy in the circumstances of the world. That joy needs to be a result of the Spirit living in us, and it needs to be a result of the Good News that we’ve received.
Let’s recognize we can do this. We can do this during Advent, we can do this when the world is presenting a lot of bad news. Because the source of our joy is Jesus Himself. And the way that joy becomes manifest in our lives is through the Spirit living, and present, and active in our hearts. If that’s how we’re living, we can’t help but radiate joy. We can’t help but show that joy to the world.”
Listen to the full reflection below: