“The Spirit’s Joy”
Luke 1:46b-55, December 11th
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Third week of Advent – Joy – “Light Pink Candle”
Read Statement of Faith
“Hear now the words attributed to Mother Mary from the accounting in the gospel of Luke, chapter one, verses forty-six-b thru fifty-five.”
46b “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
“Having heard this ancient account, let us now consider how this expression of joy may touch our own hearts.”
“The Spirit’s Joy”
Joy is an elusive and splendor thing! The season we are now within is filled with the sounds of Joy. Can you hear it!? Can you perceive it!? We all seek to claim it as our own. The ads on TV use it to catch your attention. Even us Preacher’s want to see a joyful smile on your faces. A quick stop at the toy stores a new doll or toy dump truck or fire engine, in your sack; we pray they shall bring joy to a young child’s life! In our scripture we heard the heart felt sound of a young mother’s joy as she begins to joyfully celebrate the gift of new life – within her own womb. She attributes the coming birth of the Christ Child to the loving ‘favor’ of her Lord! She recounts the historically recorded events of others ‘before’ her, who have felt the joyful gift of God’s great blessings and acts of kindness, justice, and mercy! Yes, joy is a splendor thing when we get a hold of it!
Alan Brehm tells us of how Advent causes us to sing joyfully. “In Advent, ‘Alen tells us’ we sing because we look forward to something better than the violence and suffering and injustice all around us. We look forward to the kindness and generosity and compassion of our God being fulfilled for all the people of the world.” Yes, we do look forward to a better tomorrow. Sometimes drawing on the miracles of the past. The sticking point is of course the difficulty in staying in today. It is so easy to slip into the joy that we perceive will be in our days yet to come. The hope of tomorrow is a good thing. However, it is in the living of our lives in the here and now that prevails over it all! For without today there is not a tomorrow. Alas, the history lesson contained in yesterday’s ups and downs, will give us the keys to prevailing well, in our tasks this very day!
Tis in the analogy of the mountain hiker who hopes to see what the peak may bring. On the trip into the mountains, there is the beauty of the sight of the peaks and valleys from many miles away. As the van filled with expectant, joyous hikers reach the base camp, the encouragement of the beckoning terrain of the mountain top has disappeared. Ah, the valley now looms ahead and becomes the center of attention. To the veteran hiker, the challenge of the valley’s darkness is well understood. To the novice or inexperienced it can seem daunting and challenging, as its enormity overshadows what once was a sparkling shinning day, a day for a new adventure. In a sense, they feel the pain of loss as they have lost sight of the peak, the high point. The very spirit of the novice on the trail… the journey of life, is very much that of the inexperienced hiker. The darkness at the valleys’ lowest point, crawling with the insects that have their kingdom there – looms. The lowly creatures of the mist and muggy dampness seek to suck the very boots of the new hiker… into the ground itself.
If it were not for the valleys, the peaks would never be seen, and the heights of one’s journey would never turn into the splendid, joy filled moments, as one has hoped for! In the same manner we can once again draw, Mother Mary’s words back into our hearts. Verse 46b thru 47 of our lesson speaks out! “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” It is wonderful to hear the jubilant words of Mary. Clearly, she was feeling joyful. Let us not forget what brought her here to this point. In the verse just prior to our reading today, verses 39 & 40, we hear where Mary had traveled to visit. “In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.” We learn that both Mary and Elizabeth are with child. Some say Elizabeth was her relative, and the mother to be of John the Baptist. Possibly. The Spirit works in mysterious ways. Mystifying how their joy is written of. As the writer of these accounts knew of the setting of their tomorrows. We must always pay attention to the attitude of our writers, as they are biased, based on their knowledge of the story’s end.
Advent causes us to prepare for the coming of Christ. We know the full story thus we know Christ’s joy and his sorrows. Thereby we also know of the expectant mothers in our story. We know of their joy, and we know their sorrow. It is the contrast of these emotions that has always drawn our attention to the details that were deemed relevant and important to record for our hearing. You see, the writer who composed the gospel account, contained in Luke’s writing, knew the Easter story as well. That draws in the accounts of what we call Good Friday, the mock trail, the execution and all the sorrow that Mary was to undergo. And if Elizabeth were the mother of John the Baptist, the pain, the sorrow of his execution is a part of this writing. It is hard, isn’t it? Joy and sorrow mixed!
To any writer this is great stuff! To a mother it is, at best, a mixed blessing.
The irony of course, is plain to see. If it were not for sorrow – we would never appreciate and fully experience the Joy of New Life – offered to us through the voice, the new light of Christ! Just as the irony of experiencing the valleys of life or hiking into the valley of a looming mountaintop; we must experience both, to fully appreciate the sacrifice made, and the joy envisioned, perceived, and experienced! The irony of life and our faith journeys is of the same mold. All the above and everything below and around us, must be mixed-together to achieve the fulness of it all! Each is to be experience fully. Whether in the valley or experiencing sorrow at any level of life. We must embrace it, not hide from its troubling sadness, or avoid it. When we can feel the love of God in these moments, we will surely come to know the true meaning of Joy. History affirms this. The plans, which we all have, hinge on hope. Which is more than just envisioned when we live into our plans – as the time for them arrive. When we allow ourselves to take life as it is, with hope in our hearts. God’s love is surrounding us thereby giving us peace. The culmination of which brings us and fills us with new freedom; freedom to experience and express joy.
Karl Jacobson shares his thoughts about the advent journey. “As we have prepared for the coming of the Christ Child, now we too can sing in thanksgiving, in celebration, in remembrance, and in proclamation of the promise made to our ancestors.” May we all be like an expectant joyful mother, filled with jubilant praise of our Creator God. There shall be time enough to embrace the emotions of coming events. May our journey’s expectations be leveled and greeted with the knowledge of things that are etched in the annals of history. Joy is meant to be shared. Doing so expends its breath, width, and depth. Contagious joy is surely meant to be spread far and wide. Let us therefore be willing to sing from our hearts till we are heard in the heavens above.
John Petty reminds us of what it is like when we are not in the bliss of joy but are in those dark valleys. He invites us to remember the lessons of the past. Look to the lessons of history. “God is always on the side of those on the bottom, those who are excluded, those left out. Yet, God does not triumph over their oppressors in a vindicative act, but rather a loving one. God wants them to change and join the mission of the kingdom.” John puts a lot into a few short phrases. He reminds us that God seems to have a special place in our Creator’s heart, always reaching out to those who have fallen upon lean times. Yet, embraces our tyrants, our oppressors with that same love which God has always shown us. Joy, like hope, peace and love needs to be cherished and not hidden from others, no matter their humanness. For it is through God’s kindness and compassion as well as forgiveness by which God has transformed those of us willing to accept God’s grace.
Larry Broding asks the question that many try to avoid answering. “How hard is it to give up the old and accept the new?” To embrace the question at all, we shall need to acknowledge something has become old and needs to be let go. Once we do so we can acknowledge the need or advisability of accepting a new ‘whatever, in our lives. So many of us seem to embrace sadness and sorrow, more readily than God’s outstretched arms… offering us comfort and shelter from life’s storms. We need to let go of our tendency to accept the pain of life without also turning our thoughts to the light the love of God through Christ. For is it not the joy of the Christmas story which opens us to the fulness of God’s Living Spirit? The Spirit of Joy is the Spirit of God, as surely as the cycles of life are part of God’s Creation.
This time of Advent is a time of expectation. The celebration of the newness which God offers. The celebration of a newborn baby. Mary, like every expectant mother had hope for her coming child. She had peace in her heart through her faith in her Creator God. She expressed joy and gratitude for all which creation offered her. She was feeling love in her heart and believed the newness within her, was of God’s doing, and would overcome all the humanness she and others had experienced.