By Asst Ps Patrick Chan Yin
As we come to the third weekend of Advent (“Coming”), it is interesting to note that the third Sunday of Advent in the liturgical calendar is called “Gaudete Sunday” (or the “Sunday of Joy”). The day takes its name from the Latin word “Gaudete” (meaning “Rejoice”) and is the first word of a Gregorian introit/chant usually sung on that day.
While the theme of Advent is a focus on the coming of Jesus in three ways: His first, His present, and His final Advent, the theme for “Gaudete Sunday” deals with rejoicing in the Lord (Christian joy) as well as the mission of John the Baptist and his connection with Advent. The theologian Henri Nouwen described the difference between joy and happiness. While happiness is dependent on external conditions, joy is “the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing – sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death – can take that love away.”
One of my favourite verses in the Bible teaches this truth. Romans 8:35-39:
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Thus, joy can be present even in the midst of sadness because we know that even though we are going through tough times, God still loves us. His love for us is unconditional. And even though we may not ‘feel’ His love and do not know the reason why He allows us to go through such difficult and sad times, we know that He will help us and sustain us through.
Psalm 126 reminds us of that. The song carries a powerful message of hope for those who are going through crisis. It tells us that times of trouble and sorrow do not last. It tells you that God will turn your sorrow to joy and your tears to laughter. It even tells you what you should do while you are waiting.
In vv. 1-3, the psalmist looked back at a time when the captives returned to Jerusalem following their long exile in Babylon. They had suffered for many years, and because of God’s great love and mercy, they are now back in their homeland, back in Jerusalem, back in the beloved city of God. They could not believe it. They thought they were dreaming. But this was for real. God has done great things for them and they were testimonies of that fact. They rejoiced in the Lord for that.
And because of God’s faithfulness in the past, the psalmist can now turn to Him for hope of deliverance. He petitions God in v. 4, “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negev!” Just like streams in the desert brings hope and life in arid regions, he prays that God will give hope and life to those who go through difficult times. He then confidently concludes that God shall turn their tears and sorrows into joy (in vv. 5-6).
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if you are going through a challenging time at this present moment, I trust and pray that this psalm will speak to you as much as it has spoken to me and has encouraged me to press on. May this season of advent bring you “joy” because “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).