December 16, 2012

Gaudete Sunday: Simple Joy by Kate Wicker

The distinction between joy and happiness has become glaringly obvious for me this Advent season. In the past few weeks, I’ve been forced to witness several loved ones suffer everything from a miscarriage at 14 weeks to a stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Hearing news like this has not made anyone happy, but it also hasn’t leeched the joy completely out of any of us either.

Happiness is all fine and good, but it passes with more frequency than my baby’s bowel movements. And that’s saying a lot considering my little man pooped three times just yesterday. In other words, happiness, which becomes happenstance when translated in Latin, is fleeting and at the whim of life’s circumstances. I feel happy when my husband and I sneak away for a date night - or just share a glass of vino at home before passing out from exhaustion.  I’m not so happy when I step on a rogue Lego in bare feet or when all four of my children become nocturnal and offer me anything but a silent night.

Joy, on the other hand, comes from within; it resonates in your soul. You carry it with you even as you stumble through the day like a total “mombie.” Joy remains your companion even as you carry heavy crosses like a cancer diagnosis, the death of a child, or chronic, debilitating pain. I know people who are dealing with these kinds of struggles; yet, they’re still able to laugh, to savor the smallest of blessings in life, and to give thanks for their faith and their life as it is with ickiness, disease, and all. They look beyond the hand life has dealt them - a lousy hand right about now (good luck makes us happy; God makes us joyful even in the face of bad luck), and they choose joy. They choose Him.

That’s what Gaudete Sunday is all about.  (Gaudete is Latin for rejoice.) It’s about choosing Him, choosing joy, and rejoicing even when life has you down. It’s about seeing the babe in the manger as more than a sweet symbol but as a gift - the only gift that matters, a vessel of hope. Yes, what’s to come is bigger and better than our limited human intellect could ever imagine. It’s what St. Paul encourages us to do: To consider it all - even the heartache, the burnt cookies, and the nuclear diapers - as joy.

“Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials...” James 1:2

So how will I be celebrating this third Sunday in Advent that invites all of us to rejoice? This Sunday where above all else I am called to manifest the joy of Christ in my home and in my heart?

A few Gaudete Sundays ago my oldest daughter and I used pink and purple frosting to adapt these edible candles into an Advent theme, but even my dogged sweet tooth is sugared out at this point so we’re not going to make or eat any more treats today. A sugar rush, like happiness, is passing, but joy is like a savory stew or a loaf of homemade bread. It’s filling. It warms you from the inside out. So maybe I’ll make something wholesome and satisfying for the family.

Or maybe I’ll curl up with the kids and read some Little Women, our current family read-aloud. Or we perhaps we will watch A Muppet’s Christmas Carol together. I won’t just stick them alone in front of the television, but I’ll sit with my children and invite them to pile on my lap like a bunch of warm puppies. Maybe at dinnertime we’ll each share our most joyful Christmas memory.

I’m honestly not sure what I’ll be doing aside from choosing joy on this day set aside to rejoice. In fact, contrary to my obsessive compulsive planning tendencies, my only real plan for Gaudete Sunday this year is to have no real plans at all. I’m discovering over and over again that simplicity engenders far more pleasure and lasting memories than highly staged, contrived, or overly ambitious plans. Christmas is less about the tyranny of to-dos and more about the freedom to simply be. Jesus’ first birthday was joyously simple. He was born in a dirty stable surrounded by animals. More of my days, my life, need to be joyously simple, too.

I invite all of you to rejoice right along with me today. Light that third candle, but don’t feel like you need to do anything more. Enjoy your family. God doesn’t need you need to dance a jig or to make mountains of cookies in honor of Him. He doesn’t need a calendar brimming with Advent engagements, plans, and potlucks to be adored. God was humble enough to be born in a dusty manger, and He is the Prince of Peace, not the Prince of Stress Ball Hyperventilation.

 Living a joyful life means less of a fuss, less of us, and more of Him. If on this Gaudete Sunday and during the rest of my Advent journey I can slow down and open my heart enough to make room for God, then I’ll be a few steps closer to living a life marked by joy, contentment, and serenity regardless of my circumstances - screeching, sugar-charged children included.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!
Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:4-7

Kate Wicker is a wife, mom of four, speaker, and author of Weightless: Making Peace with Your Body. When she’s not trying to keep her home one step away from a health hazard, she’s also a health columnist for CatholicDigest. To learn more about Kate’s speaking, writing, and frequent face-offs with poop, visit

For more posts on Advent traditions and reflections check out the Advent series.


  1. Just what I needed to read today! Thanks Kate!

  2. This was so wonderful to read today. I too find that true joy makes the tough times more bearable. I have watched my best friend have a miscarriage, my sister's friend die and my grandmother deteriorate with dementia. Through it all joy has helped my sister appreciate the memories of her friend, me comfort my friend even though I was deeply hurting for her and her husband, and my family laugh in the face of despair when my grandmother forgets and loses the ability to care for herself. Joy comes from Jesus and helps us withstand anything!

  3. Thank you for having me over here, Bonnie. Here's to not only a joyful Advent and Christmas season but a joyful life as well!