Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Third Candle

The third candle on the advent wreath is the candle of joy.

Oh, goody! I’ve been looking forward to writing about this. Joy is such a contagious, happy-sounding word. Writing about it will be a joyful pleasure, right? Um ... maybe not.

The dictionary says that synonyms for joy are  “delight, great pleasure, happiness ... ”  But a friend reminds me of a quote by Thomas Merton. “If you do not know the difference between joy and pleasure, than you have not yet begun to live.”

Joy is serious business, apparently.  I decide to explore some more before I write (always a good idea; careless, thoughtless writing is joyless for both the writer and reader.)

If you google joy quotes, you will get an eyeful of them. For instance: Joy is inside of you and doesn’t depend on outward circumstances. Joy is the simplest form of gratitude. Joy is a net that catches souls (that one came from Mother Theresa). Joy wipes away pain. Joy is a sign of God’s presence. If you are attentive, you will find joy in the present moment. Music will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.  Joy is a choice. Joy is easily transported: bring it with you. And I love this one: In times of joy, all of us wish we had a tail we could wag. (WH Auden).

After I’m finished smiling about this image, I notice something. It’s the words “In times of joy...” that stops me. In times of joy...we are almost always reminded that there’s another side of life, that is, times of sorrow. Times of blues. Times of unhappiness.

I’ve just come back from sharing a lovely evening with a group of good friends. We laughed as we told stories and shared memories of Christmases past. We were warmed by fellowship, and  were feeling the joy of community. And then the door opened and pain walked in. It’s not all good news out there; we all struggle with issues; we all have friends and relatives with serious emotional and medical  problems, and we feel so helpless. We’d like to fix it, but we can’t. Is there room for joy in that scenario?

I haven’t found any great treatise on joy that will give me and you the definitive answer. But here’s how I see it. It seems to me that in the range of feelings from sorrow to joy, there are many different shades, and they mingle together: happy-clappy joy with deep sorrow, quiet joy with winter blues, ecstatic joy with black despair. Like streams of water coming from many sources, they mingle and merge to form a river – the river of life that carries us on. We can’t undo those mingled currents and travel always on the river of joy; but we can look for joy in our darkest moments, because it is there. This I believe.

The candle of joy is pink. That’s because, way back when Advent and Lent were established in the church calendar, both were somber times of penance and reflection, a time of mourning for our sins. One of the popes, however, was wise enough to know that people can break under the yoke of unrelieved sadness, so in the middle of Lent, he gave out roses to the priests, to remind folks of the joy that was coming. Pink became the colour to symbolize that joy, and so a pink candle was also inserted into the advent wreath.

I added a river of various coloured threads to the rose on this candle
It seems to me that God is handing us roses at Christmas time. Joy came down to live with us. Light the candle of joy, and let the flame spread light in the darkness. And go ahead: wag that figurative tail!

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