A joy that cannot be contained

    December 21, 2023
    Advent reflection day 19 graphic. Watercolor brush strokes of Christmas tree branches in white and pale green.

    Have you ever been so filled with joy that you could not contain yourself? You walked down the street smiling and greeting every stranger? You couldn’t stop humming or singing a happy tune? You had an extra spring in your step? You could hardly sit still? It is easy to imagine that feeling in today’s readings, in which we see repeated descriptions of a joy that cannot — and should not — be contained!

    First, the prophet Zephaniah urges us to “shout for joy,” “sing joyfully,” and even “exult” with all of our heart. He calls us not to mere happiness, but to joy — a radiance that fills us completely, and overflows into song and shouts of joy. The Psalm continues this theme, repeating the call to “exult” and “sing a new song,” brought forth from our joy-filled hearts. Like the prophet, the psalmist assures us that the Lord is near, that He loves us, rejoices with us, and saves us.

    Finally, in Luke’s Gospel, we read of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, both of them are pregnant. When she greets Mary, the baby she carries leaps in Elizabeth’s womb. The word “exult” comes from the Latin exsultāre, meaning “to leap up.” The infant John is literally exulting in the presence of Jesus, and in anticipation of His birth. Even before his own birth, John begins to fulfill his mission to “testify to the light.”

    As Advent draws close to its culmination with the celebration of the Nativity, our own anticipation grows. Much like a small child, unable to sleep on the night before Christmas, we await with joyful anticipation the incarnation of the Lord who saves us, shares our humanity, weeps with us, and sings with us: our God-with-us, Emmanuel.

    May this special season of Advent serve always to renew our childlike joy at the coming of the Lord, and may that joy not be contained only within this season. Instead, let us carry that joy within our hearts throughout the year. Let our smiles come naturally from deep in our renewed hearts and let us “testify to the light,” sharing the good news with all!

    Timothy P. Williams is a weak Samaritan, North Dakota State Bison football fan, and the National Formation Director for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in the United States.

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