Text: Luke 1:39-56
Title: “JOY…to Get Me Through the Tough Days”
Let me start off by reading a different scripture passage to you. In order to enter into Mary’s words, it helps to hear Isaiah’s words, some seven centuries earlier, to see her expectations wrapped up in the expectations of the Hebrew people.
This is Isaiah 35:1-10, from Peterson’s The Message translation:
Wilderness and desert will sing joyously, the badlands will celebrate and flower—Like the crocus in spring, bursting into blossom, a symphony of song and color. Mountain glories of Lebanon—a gift. Awesome Carmel, stunning Sharon—gifts. God’s resplendent glory, fully on display. God awesome, God majestic.
Energize the limp hands, strengthen the rubbery knees. Tell fearful souls, “Courage! Take heart! God is here, right here, on his way to put things right And redress all wrongs. He’s on his way! He’ll save you!”
Blind eyes will be opened, deaf ears unstopped, Lame men and women will leap like deer, the voiceless break into song. Springs of water will burst out in the wilderness, streams flow in the desert. Hot sands will become a cool oasis, thirsty ground a splashing fountain. Even lowly jackals will have water to drink, and barren grasslands flourish richly.
There will be a highway called the Holy Road. No one rude or rebellious is permitted on this road. It’s for God’s people exclusively— impossible to get lost on this road. Not even fools can get lost on it. No lions on this road, no dangerous wild animals—Nothing and no one dangerous or threatening. Only the redeemed will walk on it. The people God has ransomed will come back on this road. They’ll sing as they make their way home to Zion, unfading halos of joy encircling their heads, Welcomed home with gifts of joy and gladness as all sorrows and sighs scurry into the night.
Isaiah is chock full of reference to the Advent of our God, the coming of our Lord to save the Hebrew people. It’s great stuff. Now, for Isaiah, God’s coming means the return of the redeemed to Zion. God is coming with great power and he’s going to overcome disease, and wickedness and disorder. He’s coming to wipe away all that stands in the way of God’s new age.
Too often, among Christians, we downplay what salvation means. We don’t give it enough meat. We make it into something that just pertains to individual souls. “Are you saved?” But our God’s coming is not just to save our souls but to totally transform humanity and creation and unite us together in eternal joy.
Our God does things big.
This is the Advent that Isaiah’s talking about. This is a God of great power and might who will claim all of creation and all of creation will trade in their sorrows for the joy of the Lord. Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord. Yes, yes, Lord. Amen.
And this is the Advent, or coming, of God that Mary sings about in her MAGNIFICAT. “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Why? Well for all of the reason that Isaiah talks about.
Mary is a poor, pregnant, young girl, who knows she’s going to have a hard time convincing everyone that an angel of the Lord told her she would bear God’s son. She’s from a small, and mostly insignificant, people. She’s under Roman rule. Her people have experienced bondage and exile. But she has this hope, deep down inside of her that her God would come. And he would come and save her and her people. That they would be “saved.”
And so, she sings with joy:
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 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. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.
Salvation is coming. Mercy is coming. The hungry will be fed. The rich will be sent away. This has always been God’s promise. And now it is getting fulfilled. And so…she is joyful. Her soul magnifies the Lord.
This time of year, there is sort of a forced expectation of joyfulness. Without a jolly “ho ho ho” one may be accused of being a Scrooge. We talk about being joyful, even though we don’t have much. We point out those who are joyful with so much less. We may note how our serving at the soup kitchen for one night or our Operation Christmas Child box will bring joy to some little boy or girl somewhere in the world.
That’s not a bad thing. But it is incomplete. There is a difference between joy and happiness. There is a lot about this season that can make us happy. Getting that gift you want…or giving the gift that someone else wanted. Singing “The Little Drummer Boy” or looking at a the Christmas lights on houses in Anchorage (some people have far too much time on their hands!) Christmas break. Skiing. Eggnog lattes.
I don’t think any of those things mentioned, at least for me, go much beyond surface-level happiness. They sure bring a smile to my face. All of them. But, as quickly as the smile appears the feeling fades as more stuff starts happening around me.
Joy isn’t on the surface and, unlike happiness, isn’t dependent upon outside circumstances. Joy springs from a hope in a God that will provide for us and a sure and certain belief that it is true. Joy is an attitude of the heart…and can be with us when the candles are no longer lit, when the carols are no longer sung, when the presents have all been opened and the eggnog lattes will wait for another year.
Joy, can be present in midst of pain…recognizing that there is something better in store for us…and holding onto that.
Both for Isaiah and Mary, we hear that God’s coming never makes light of the present problems that both faced. They never claim that they are not in exile. They are not in bondage. They have no need for salvation…a real, earthly salvation. They never say that. But they do say that in opposition to brokenness, wrongs, sorrows and sighs…that Isaiah and Mary AND us experience…in opposition to this, God is going to break on through and he will prevail and all will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well (as was said in last week’s sermon).
That’s why Isaiah says to be joyful.
That’s why Mary rejoices.
It’s not because things are peachy keen. They’re not. And for those of us who know the whole story of Mary we know they are really never going to be peachy keen for her.
- They run away to Egypt after Jesus’ birth
- Jesus is confusing when he grows up, saying strange words, leaving to go be with disciples.
- He is arrested.
- He is tried.
- He is killed.
It’s not peachy keen…or hunky dory. At times, I’m sure, it’s downright unhappy.
And yet, the joy is for her.
And it is for us…even if this year, this Christmas, this economic environment, our family situation…even if it’s not good…the joy of knowing that our Savior comes, is for us.
Now, we won’t pretend that everything is wrong and “there is no joy in Mudville” or Girdwood, or Anchorage, or your house. There’s joy.
There must be someone…who is a presence of God in your midst.
There must be something in this life where you see the hungry getting fed and the naked getting clothed, the lowly lifted up and your soul magnifies the Lord.
Nehemiah says that the Joy of the Lord is our Strength (8:10). There must be someone or something that brings you joy, deep-rooted, non-circumstantial, not fleeting but enduring. That gives you the strength of God to carry on through any bad days, any unhappy days, that come.
We’ve had an opportunity each week to write a prayer on an ornament each week and have it be put on our Christmas tree. We wrote a prayer offering to God our inmost hope. We wrote a prayer offering to God a prayer of peace for a person or a family or a nation. Today, I ask you to consider who it is that brings you joy, that fills your soul, that lets you know that God, in God’s time and in God’s way, will make it better.
And, after we close with prayer, I’ll ask you to write down that one name or a whole bunch of names. Who are those persons who, if you were to sing out like Mary, would be the ones who magnify your soul and cause you to rejoice?
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.