Today is Gaudete Sunday, when we remember where Advent is headed: toward the fullness of joy in Christ. Although we are not yet at Christmas, we pause to rejoice even today? Why?

One reason is that we already have a foretaste of joy in God even here and now, in this world. Eternity is not something that we have to wait for, at the end of life, although I do believe that when we die, we pass into God’s eternal love. We can taste and see some of that joy on earth.

Where do we rejoice? Always our joy is in God. The first reading reminds us how connected, though, that joy in God is found in relationship with others. Before Isaiah says, “I rejoice heartily in the Lord,” he says, the Spirit of God has anointed him to go to the poor, the imprisoned, and the brokenhearted (Isaiah 61:1-2a). Not all of Isaiah 61 is read at Mass, but the reading goes on after these first lines to remind us that God comes to rebuild, not to destroy; to bring joy where there is grief; and to replace shame with a double sized inheritance of belonging (Isaiah 61:4-7).

How do we get to joy? How do we get to a place beyond death, destruction, grief, or shame? Through letting God’s spirit work in and through what we have to offer to others–especially through our relationships with those who are poor or in need of healing–because then we also find joy and healing in what is poor and broken in ourselves.

The reading from Paul in Thessalonians gives concrete advice about how to rejoice: to pray ceaselessly, wherever and in whatever circumstances we are. That means not simply praying often in private or communal prayer, but to make all that we do an act or a sacrifice of prayer to God. Paul also tells us to listen to challenges and to prophetic challenges especially, but without fear, because it’s when we let God break in through our defenses and our defensiveness that the Spirit enters in.  And we find joy when we are people of gratitude, focused on remembering God’s constant giving of God’s self to us.

Joy is the fruit of living a Christian life. We don’t choose joy, but joy comes to us. How do we prepare for joy?

Practice gratitude.

Be prayerful.

Let God break through our defenses, by listening to the prophets of today.

Fear not.

Be with others, especially those who are poor, and be comfortable being with what is poor in ourselves.