The time for rejoicing is near.
Can’t you feel the swell of the season? After watching and waiting these weeks, we’re just days from welcoming baby Jesus into the world once again. O come, o come, Emmanuel. Rejoice!
Our trusted friend Merriam-Webster offers two definitions for the word rejoice. We mostly live in the first one: to feel joy or great delight.
We feel joy in the freedom of summer, sun bearing down as legs pump bike pedals, and we race to meet up with friends. We take great delight in the first kiss of the one who will become the love of a lifetime. We rejoice as a newborn stretches into sleep, head resting in the soft spot between the neck and shoulder.
During this season of Advent, we delight in family gatherings, laughter and good-natured ribbing over family-favorite feasts. We find joy in the giving (and sometimes in the getting) of gifts from loved ones.
And we rejoice in the soaring melody of this beautiful Advent hymn, “O come, o come Emmanuel.” Whether we sing with our faith community in the pews, at the top of our lungs in the shower, or alone at home as we worship online, these words stir our soul. We, like Mary in the Magnificat, proclaim: “My spirit rejoices in God my savior.”
This type of rejoicing is exuberant and contagious, and we tuck away the moments of rejoicing in our soul scrapbooks.
But Merriam-Webster offers another definition for rejoice that we don’t often consider. Rejoice can also mean to give joy to, to gladden. In this use, it’s a transitive verb. What that means is that the verb has a direct object. It seems to me that this is the definition Jesus embodies. He comes to be among us, born in a lowly stable, to give joy to us. To gladden our hearts. To be love incarnate, love made flesh. We are the object of his gift of joy.
So what does that mean for us as Christians? Yes, we rejoice. We must rejoice. Just think of the wonders of creation—the light of a firefly, cotton-candy skies at sunset, the crash of a wave. How can we not delight in their majesty?
We rejoice in our relationships with others. The comfort of coming home, no matter how old and how long. A hand held on a long walk. The tear that escapes when a child takes flight into the world. God delights in these moments with us, and we rejoice.
And of course, we rejoice in the gift of this baby, the Christ. Emmanuel, o come.
Yet we cannot leave our rejoicing there, as something we receive or experience. As we seek to be Christlike in all that we say and do, we must also give joy to others and find ways to gladden their hearts. When we see that rejoicing is not just a taking in but a giving out, we discover blessings anew.