The theme for the Third Sunday of advent is joy. In many of our churches, the third candle in the Advent wreath is rose, the mixing of the three purple candles (purple bring the colour of Advent, and Lent) and the white Christmas candle.
The biblical metaphor for joy par excellence is the desert bursting into bloom after the rains have come. Where, for forty-nine weeks of the year, you must look closely to see the many small, hidden, signs of life, for three weeks the ground is a canopy of flowers, of the most intense colours. Where a desert is found close to an urban centre, such as Perth in Western Australia, people will come out into the wilderness just to see the spectacle. But the window is a brief one, and then the desert returns to its muted, sun-bleached palette—until the next rains.
This is what joy is like, an intense emotion that surprises and delights us, and gives us the feeling that we are deeply connected to God, nature, the universe, everything. It is not something that you can manufacture—unlike the less intense happiness: you can do things that make you happy, such as plan a family gathering, or eat an ice-cream cone on a summer’s day—but it is something you can learn to rely on, and appreciate, through the discipline of gratitude. Isaiah pairs his vision of the desert bursting out with joy in response to the rains with a vision of building a road on which people can travel to come before the Lord with joy. Every paving stone, an expression of gratitude.
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