December 2023

‘I have said these things to you … that your joy may be complete’.  (John 15.11) NRSV.

Advent is a time for joyful expectation as well as solemn reflection and contemplation.  This month’s saying contains both elements because the joy we seek in life emanates from Christ Himself - His birth, His teaching, His healing and miracles, His death and resurrection.  It’s all there in the Gospels.  ‘I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you’ is the starting point for all our contemplation; ‘My joy in you’.

The context of these words is the Upper Room when Jesus is speaking intimately to the first disciples about His love for them which is shown in the sharing of the Passover meal – the Last Supper.  This meal was a very real and tangible way in which they would remember and re-enact that love, as we do today every time we celebrate the Eucharist.

In John 15, Jesus uses the picture and analogy of the Vine to illustrate an organic living or abiding in Him as He lives in us.  It signifies a deep union and communion with our Lord.  This is what Jesus is praying for and interceding for on our behalf, all the time.  The early church fathers and mothers understood this truth about prayer and contemplation, seeing the latter as Jesus praying in us.  Within the prayer of contemplation, we can sometimes be aware of this.  We may sense, in a very mystical way, that Christ is actually within us:  ‘Christ in us, the hope of glory’ (Colossians 1.27).  This is where we find this inner joy, in the words of December’s Saying, ‘my joy … in you … that your joy may be complete’.

Much joy is of course experienced through our five senses.  It might be the joy of seeing the sunrise in the morning, or the joy of hearing the bird song, or the joy of tasting a delicious meal, or the joy of smelling fresh bread in the bakery, or the joy of the touch of skin.  Going beyond and deeper than the senses is the joy of human love in all its forms: from the intimacy of marriage or partnership, to the love of the stranger.

The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy and peace amongst other things (Gal 5.22).  Love and joy are the first two fruits.  And they grow within us, especially through the discipline of listening in contemplative prayer.  Jesus says in this month’s Saying that He wishes that our joy may be complete; other translations use the word ‘full’.  May this Saying inspire us to feel that joy in the ways in which He intended, this Christmas and always.