Joy, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Gathered here this morning we have seen the joy inherent in the lighting of the pink Advent Candle and the ebullient joy pouring out of the children during this exciting time of year. We have witnessed the joy of young parents bringing their second baby to be baptized here and the joy of family joining them. At Christmastime, in the midst of cold and snow and ice there is a special sense of joy that dances around us in the lights, the trees, the delightful holidays treats, and (my favorite) the Christmas Cards that come in the mail.
Nothing however, can compare to the joy that the wonderful Mary, Mother of Jesus experienced when it fully dawned on her that she was chosen to bear a child destined to deliver all the world from darkness. She did not say “are you kidding?” or “No, no, no, I cannot do this. This just isn’t me!” Here in the Gospel of Luke she declares, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices!” I don’t know about you, but I think I might have been greatly fearful and I would probably have gotten on the phone to make an appointment with the nearest mental health professional, thinking this situation all pretty crazy.
However, that is not the space Mary is in. She is, according to this scripture, in rapture at being called to divine parenthood, but she doesn’t stop there. For Mary, this is a moment of perfect service to humanity. Her pregnancy is not just about her, her baby to be nor even her personal relationship with God. She humbles herself as an agent for God’s work in the world. Mary exclaims; “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” These words remind me of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Like Mother, like Son, Jesus and Mary are primarily concerned with the welfare of the downtrodden or as Mary called them, “the lowly.” That is echoed in our beloved Christmas Carol “O Holy Night;”
Surely, he taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break,
for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
That was the plan God laid out through Jesus Christ, “all oppression shall cease” but we are still trying to live that out, aren’t we?
In the Old Testament passage from Isaiah today, the prophet has a vision which makes him apoplectic with joy! He sees Angels with six wings (six!) surrounding the Lord God sitting on a throne. I assume many people see God in their imagination this way, sitting up tall, older, wise and magnificent on a big chair. A similar message to the one in the Gospel happens in Hebrew Scripture vision. God asks in Ch. 6 v. 8 “Who will do the work of God in the world? Isaiah immediately responds, “Here am I; send me!” So, here we have two people, Mary and Isaiah, on a mission for God, not terribly concerned about their own welfare, ready and willing to serve. And you know, it’s clear their service brings them the experience of great joy!
Does remembering joyous times of the past bring joy to your present? Sometimes, when I’m in a rough place and I am feeling a little bit down, I think of when my little girl was born. I was in a terrible period in my life, but her beautiful face as she emerged into the world and those little fingers and her tiny voice propelled me into recognizing the miraculous thing that just occurred.
How do you express joy? Is it an audible shout or do you express it some other way? Let’s try an exercise this morning. Let’s take a shot at audibly expressing our joy for life, right here, right now. Even if you do not feel particularly happy today, let’s just fake it till we make it. Here are some words from the scriptures we can use: “Alleluia!” “Holy, holy, holy!” “Here I am Lord, send me!” “Gloria!” “Praise God!” Or use your own words - that’s okay too. Let’s have some exclamations about joy here today, just shout them out! Would anyone care to share about something or someone that gives them or has given them great joy, here this morning? However little or big, it doesn’t matter. What gives you joy?
Let us pray:
Lord, guide us to rejoice always, to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in all circumstances.