The Advent Theme of Joy

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(This is an excerpt from the chapter "Son of David" from the book Good Tidings of Great Joy.)

Luke’s account of the Savior’s birth, complete with the angel’s annunciation of “good tidings of great joy,” provides one of the most joyful scenes in scripture. Traditionally the third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin injunction “Rejoice!” Frequently read on this Sunday is the verse, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). While the entire season leading up to Christmas is a joyful period today, historically Advent was largely a solemn season of preparation. Gaudete Sunday was a welcome reminder that the Christmas message is, in fact, one of happiness and rejoicing.

As a result, the third candle in many Advent wreaths is often pink or rose-colored, setting it off from the other three purple candles. I find another useful image in the pink candle, choosing to see it as representing the blood of Christ that he shed in his Passion, reminding us in the midst of Christmas preparations that Jesus came into the world foremost as a sacrifice. Nevertheless, the sorrow of Christ’s suffering and death is blotted out as we triumph in his Resurrection, and we anticipate the return of Jesus in his Second Coming with joy.

Many scriptures describe the joy that comes because of Christ’s coming and the salvation that he accomplished for us. The following are some of our family’s favorites, which we read together on the third Sunday of Advent:

“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation. Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:2–5; emphasis added).

“And he said unto me: Awake, and hear the words which I shall tell thee; for behold, I am come to declare unto you the glad tidings of great joy. For the Lord hath heard thy prayers, and hath judged of thy righteousness, and hath sent me to declare unto thee that thou mayest rejoice; and that thou mayest declare unto thy people, that they may also be filled with joy” (Mosiah 3:3–4; emphasis added; see Chapter 5: Further Glad Tidings).

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you” (John 16:20–22; emphasis added).

If the candles of the Advent wreath are also used to recall or teach about the covenants that God has made with us, the third candle can be used to represent the covenant that God made with Israel through Moses. On one level, it represents the law of Moses, so the pink color of this candle can be used to remember the blood of that law’s offerings, which prefigured the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

The best-known carol that sings of joy is, of course, “Joy to the World.” The text is a Christian paraphrase of Psalm 98 by Isaac Watts (1674–1748), and it was firmly associated with the hymn tune “Antioch” by Lowell Mason (1792–1872) in 1836. Popular with Christian groups, many churches have adjusted the lyrics slightly to accord with their own beliefs or sensitivities. Latter-day Saints are no different, following W. W. Phelps’s lead by changing “and heaven and nature sing” in the last three lines of the first verse to “and saints and angels sing.” Because it is both familiar and fun to sing, our family always sings this carol at the end of our third Advent celebration.

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