Isaiah 60:1-7, Luke 1:39-56
December 16. 2012
I hope you’ve noticed that were doing things a little differently this year. We’re using the different themes of advent the prophecies, the birth stories, and the promise of the second Advent. But were combining them with the themes of the Advent Wreath liturgy. So far we’ve talked about this being “A Season of Promise,” and “A Season of preparation.” And those are great! I hope you’ve been looking at the paper I gave you last week and asking yourself the question every day, “How do I prepare myself today for the coming of the Christ Child?”
Well, today we are talking about this being “A Season of Joy.” We sing “Joy to the World.” We sing “O tidings of comfort and joy” (Although that hymn is not in our book for some reason!) We’re thinking about the “Heralds of Joy.” We remember the angels’ announcement to the shepherds about the “Good news of a great joy which shall be to all people.” And today we read part of the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel, a chapter full of stories of how that joy came to Earth, long ago!
So I hope you will take with you today, the thought that Advent is “A Season of Joy!” I hope part of the way you prepare every day for the coming of the Christ Child, is by remembering each day the great joy we celebrate. Joy is a huge part of the Advent celebration! Sometimes among the various decorations you see at this time of year, you see just that one word, “Joy!” Watch for it!
Whenever I think about Joy, I think about C. S. Lewis. Joy was a big theme in his writings and in his life of faith. Not only did Lewis marry a woman named Joy, but he saw joy as the very heart of the Gospel story. And to Lewis, the word Joy always had in its meaning an element of surprise. (Hence the title of his book Surprised by Joy.) He described Joy as being “The Good Surprise.”
Think about the last time you had a Surprise Party. Think about that moment where everybody jumped out of their hiding places and yelled “Surprise.” There’s a lot of joy in that moment isn’t there? (And maybe a bit of fear!) Lewis would say that the joy of our faith is sort of like the joy of that moment. There is a surprise element there! Maybe Christmas, then, is not just a “Birthday” we celebrate. Maybe its a “Surprise Party” for the world! Think about it. When the angels came to announce the birth, the world was surprised! (Even though the time had been foretold!)
Think about the stories that surrounded this birth. There is great joy here! There are unexpected babies. There are angel visitations. There’s that wonderful moment in our reading for today when Elizabeth greeted Mary and the baby in her womb leapt with joy. And the word used here is the word for “exultation.” We also read today the song of Mary, which has come to be known as “The Magnificat.” And this is a song of joy! “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God, my savior!”
There is great joy here! And I think you’ll agree that Advent, and Christmas, should contain that great joy! Yet how often is Christmas joy-less? Either because of tragedy, personal difficulties, or the sheer burden of the preparation, the joy often eludes us! My hope today is that we can recapture that joy!
One of my favorite authors, John Eldredge, speaks of the many Christians in many churches who have forgotten the joy, not just at Christmas time, but in their lives of faith in general. He describes many Christians as simply “striving to be good.” They learn and believe all the right things, but there is no joy! And that’s hugely ironic when you think about the great joy that is at the heart of our faith! Missing that joy is like missing a huge part of what it means to be God’s people. C. S. Lewis would agree.
In the book of Revelation, John gave the message of the angels to the churches in Asia Minor. That starts in Revelation 2. And in the very first message, the letter to the church in Ephesus, the angel told John to Write this. “I know your works, your patient endurance, and how you stand against evil. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my names sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”
Thats it, isn’t it? You have good works, and patient endurance. But you have lost your first love! For how many of us does that describe our life of faith? How many can remember what it was like when we first came to our faith, when we first realized and accepted what Jesus has done for us? How many can remember what David described in the Psalms as the “joy of our salvation?” and yet now, we have forgotten what that was like. How many have forgotten the joy of this season?
So, what do we do? How do we regain that first love? How do we live that joy? Well first, I think we have to seek the joy. We have to look for it, and we have to find it. And this season is a good place to start. Because this is “A Season of Joy.” So read these stories again. And as you do, try to remember what it was like for these women and men to which that great joy first came.
That’s your assignment! And I do hope you’ll do it! Take some time this week and read this first chapter of Luke. Just that one chapter. And as you do, try to think about what it was like for Joseph and Mary. And think about what it was like for Elizabeth and Zechariah, too! Their story is even more detailed here. Think about the joy all of those people felt. And I’m sure there was also some fear! But there was great joy here! Their joy was felt so deeply they sang of it. And we have their words. The joy was so deep it was felt even by the child in Elizabeths womb!
Then, spend some time finding and thinking about other stories of joy in Christmas. There are many of them. There are stories of that joy in other times in history, and there are stories of that joy even in our own time. Maybe you have some personal stories of joy. Look for those stories. Remember them. Share them. Remember this theme, that this is “A Season of Joy.” So find it! Find the joy!
Then next thing we need to think about is that this is “A Season of Joy,” so let it be one! And this is a tough one! The difficulties of life can consume us! They can overwhelm us and bring us down! And there can even be a sort of comfort in those difficulties. When things are tough, we can find ourselves holding onto other’s sympathy. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. But we can hang on to that, can’t we? We can hang onto our sorrows! We can let them be the focus of our world! We need instead to let the joy in!
You know I talk a lot about choices. We can and should choose intentionally certain things in our lives. And if we don’t, the choices will be made for us. Attitude is a big one! We can and must choose our attitude. If not, it will be chosen for us by our circumstances. So we can forget to choose the joy! We can miss the joy because we forget, (or even refuse!) to let it in. The angel told the Church in Ephesus to “Remember the love you had at first!” That’s telling them something to be done. That’s telling them something to be chosen! So make that choice! Choose the joy!
Any one of these characters in our story could have refused that! It wasn’t easy for Mary to say to the angel, “Let it be unto me according to your word.” But she did. She chose the joy! The fact is that the joy was all around these people. They could have refused it, but they chose to let it in.
One of the favorite songs at the first service, and a favorite at Kirkwood, is a song called “Yes, Lord.” And that song is all about the words of its first line. The words are, “I’m tradin’ my sorrows, I’m tradin’ all my pain, I’m layin’ it down for the joy of the Lord.” Notice that’s about choosing, isn’t it? When you say that, when you sing it, that’s the first step in choosing joy! So make that choice. Choose to “lay it down for the joy of the Lord.” Choose to let the joy in! Let it be “A Season of Joy.”
Lastly, this is “A Season of Joy,” so make it be! That means more than just choosing to see it that way and letting in the Joy. It’s more than “just tradin’ your sorrows and layin’ ’em down for the joy of the Lord.” It means making that joy! It means doing joyful things! It means being joyful despite circumstances. And it means making the joy for others! It means acting joyfully, and spreading the joy as often as you can this Advent season!
Theres a great saying that’s been attributed to a number of people, including Mark Twain. It’s also been called an old Irish Proverb. I don’t know which it is, but it’s great! And it goes like this. “Dance like no one’s watching, sing like no one’s listening, love like you’ll never be hurt, and live like it’s heaven on earth.” Trite? Corny? Cliched? Yeah maybe. But isn’t that what making the season joyful is about? It’s about acting and living joyfully. Eldredge would tell us that we don’t do that enough. We keep our faith safe. We confine it to being good and knowing what to believe, rather than how we live that belief! Don’t get mired in those things. Live the joy! In these stories today we read about the “Heralds of Joy.” May we be the heralds of joy for others!
So, let me tell you again. Advent is “A Season of Joy!” There is great joy in this story we celebrate. The angels sang it, Mary sang it, Zechariah sang it. Read this story again and see it. Advent is “A Season of Joy.” So, find the joy. Then, let it be a joyful season. And finally, make it be a joyful season!
Eternal God, help us to know the joy of this season. Help us to live that joy, no matter what difficulties we may encounter in our lives. Fill us with your Spirit, so that we may know the joy and share the joy with others. For these things we pray in Jesus name, Amen.