Joe was on his hands and knees on the sidewalk in front of his house one night searching for something. His neighbor Tom came along and asked him what he was looking for. “My keys,” said Joe and Tom said, “let me help you look”. After searching for quite a while, Tom said, “are you sure you lost your keys here?” and Joe said “no, I lost them over there in those bushes but there’s more light over here!”

Sometimes we look for light in all the wrong places and today’s Gospel reminds us that there is only one light, the one John the Baptist points to, the light of Jesus. There are of course other lights. I finally put my Christmas lights up this week, contributing to the joyful feeling on our street. I also put up my Christmas tree and inside decorations. Driving in yesterday’s fog, I was troubled by drivers who didn’t have their headlights on and were difficult to see and grateful for those who did have their lights on. When we have a power cut, we are grateful for the light that a candle can provide.

This Sunday is Gaudete Sunday, also known as rose Sunday, the day that we light the third candle on the advent wreath for joy. I don’t know about you but I have found it very hard to get going on these cold mornings, to take Luigi for a walk and go through my usual morning routine, and along comes Gaudete Sunday to turn our hearts and our minds towards joy.

We could argue that there’s not a lot to be joyful about in our world today but isn’t that the point. God became incarnate, came into the world as a helpless baby, came as a human being to live among us, not to magically make all problems disappear, but to share our burdens, to be with us in our grief, in our helplessness, in our woundedness, in our struggles, to share in our humanity.

In the midst of the noise and busyness that we ae immersed in, we are all of us in one way or another sending out a message to the world that we are doing ‘fine’, that we are ‘ok’. The world seems to expect this of us and it can be challenging to admit that none of us is fully ok.  Everyone is hurting somewhere. There are people here in our own parish who are carrying great pain. Today we are invited to find our place in this great congregation of flawed wounded souls, and feel right at home here, because light has come into our broken world, the light that John the Baptist pointed to, the light of Christ.

The spiritual writer Henri Nouwen put it like this:

God came to us to join us on the road, to listen to our story, and to help us realize that we are not walking in circles but moving towards the house of peace and joy. This is the great mystery of Christmas that continues to give us comfort and consolation: we are not alone on our journey. The God of love who gave us life sent Jesus to be with us at all times and in all places, so that we never have to feel lost in our struggles but always can trust that he walks with us… Christmas is the renewed invitation not to be afraid and to let him whose love is greater than our own hearts and minds can comprehend – be our companion. Henri Nouwen

We don’t find God; God comes to us…. Exactly as we are with all our hurts and struggles, our failures, our grief, and our loneliness. This is reason enough to be joyful today. And if we are open, we will find glimmers, sparks of joy in all sorts of places.  

So as we continue walking to Bethlehem, we come as we are, wounded, hurting, burdened, imperfect. What comfort is there for the empty and broken places in our lives?  In a word, Jesus: he comes to sit with us in the dark, in the empty places, in the brokenness of our hearts. We walk towards the light that will heal us and make us whole.

So, I invite you today, whatever your circumstances, whatever worries or anxieties you carry, to “lighten up” literally, to be a person who is light for others, a joy-bringer who points the way to Bethlehem and the one who is “The Light”, the source of all our joy.