Isaiah 43:1-7, Luke 1:39-56
December 11, 2016
Our Advent theme for this week is Joy. And as you know, the word “Joy” is often used as a Christmas decoration all by itself. If you drive through Hulmeville, you’ll see a big sign on someone’s lawn. There are just three letters, and they’re at least four feet high. They’re red, and I think there’s a Jesus and Mary design on one of them. But all it says is “Joy.”
And of course it doesn’t need to say anything else, does it? Because joy is an important word at Christmas time! Think about that. One of the most beloved of all Christmas Carols is “Joy to the World… the Lord has come… let Heaven and nature sing!” When the angel came to the shepherds in the field, what did he say? “Behold, I bring you good tidings – good news – of a great Joy, that shall be to all people!”
That’s what God intended for us. In fact, that’s what he has intended for us all along. The writers of the great Catechism knew that. “What is the chief end of man?” That was the first question. “What is our purpose?” (A Catechism is a teaching tool that uses questions and answers.) So, what was their answer, that every good student would learn? “The chief end of man – is to glorify God and study him forever?” “…obey him forever?” No! “The Chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
We were created to enjoy God! When the good stewards in Jesus’ parable had doubled the talents entrusted to them by their Master, what was their reward? “Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter now into the (what?) of the Lord!” The joy of the Lord!
From prison, Paul wrote these words to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord, always!” And just in case you didn’t hear me… “Again, I say, Rejoice!” It wasn’t just, “Have faith in the Lord, always.” It wasn’t “Have peace or Hope or Eternal Life in the Lord.” It was “Rejoice.” And it wasn’t just “Rejoice about the Lord.” It wasn’t just “Be happy because of what he did.” No! It was “Rejoice – have joy – in the Lord!”
Do you get it? “Joy” is a big word in our faith. And it is especially important this time of year. But! Do we have joy at Christmas? Too often, for too many people, Christmas is anything but joyful. For too many people, Christmas is the most distressing time of year. My two paramedic buddies were here last weekend – Jeff from Virginia and Earl from Kansas. And they were saying that this is the time of year when they run the most calls, when they see the most depression, the most suicides, the most overdoses. You see, people want to have Joy, but too often they cannot find it. And too often that gets focused at Christmas time.
Charles Schultz, who was a great man of God by the way, captured this feeling in his iconic show, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” I’ve referred to this before. Charlie Brown is leaning on the wall, talking to Linus. And he said, “Something’s wrong, Linus. It’s Christmas, and I know I should be happy, but I’m not!”
People know they should be happy at Christmas. They see the signs that say “Joy,” but they don’t seem to have it! They’re not sure why, and they’re distressed about it!
For the New Testament reading today, I chose this passage from Luke 1. And I like this passage, because the word “joy” exudes from it! This was before the birth of Christ, when Mary was visiting Elizabeth. And already Elizabeth had told Mary that upon hearing her voice, the baby within her “leaped for joy.” And then Mary pours out these words.
This has come to be known over the years as “The Song of Mary,” or “The Magnificat.” That word comes from the Latin translation of the first word of this passage. “My soul magnifies the Lord…” It has been set to music many times over the years by many of the world’s greatest composers. I had no idea how many until I pulled up a list on line. It was hundreds! Included among them were Pachelbel, Vivaldi, Purcell, Buxtehude, Telemann, and of course, Bach! (Ah Bach!)
Mary was filled with Joy over what God had done for her! Not for her circumstances! They weren’t very pleasant! She had a lot of “esplainin’” to do about being “with child!” And, as I said last week, she didn’t know all that was going to happen to her – not the way we know! She didn’t know she was going to have to take an arduous journey, when she was “great with child!” Like all Bible stories, we know the story better than the people in it! But in this case, we also know, if we listen to Mary, that the joy she had came from God! “My spirit rejoices in God, my Savior!”
Does your spirit rejoice in God, your savior? That’s the important thing here. We seek the joy of Christmas in the one who gave us Christmas! Charlie Brown finally “got it” after Linus took the stage, (with his blanket!) asked for a spotlight, and told the story from Luke’s Gospel. “And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night…” It’s hard for me to hear those words, without hearing his voice! “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
Again, don’t get me wrong! The sights and sounds (and smells!) of Christmas are wonderful! And I love them! I hope you do, too! But if we’re looking for our joy in those things alone, we will come up short! If we seek our Joy only in the things of season, we will be disappointed. We need to be joyful in the source of all joy! That’s the joy that will sustain us, not in shallow, transient ways, but in deep spiritual ways. We seek the joy of Christmas in the one who gave us Christmas!
That’s the joy I pray for all of us this Advent and Christmas season! And that’s the joy we can share, with those who need to hear it! “Rejoice in the Lord, Always! Again I say, Rejoice!”
Eternal God, indeed you gave us Christmas. Help us to find our Joy in you this Christmas season and to carry that joy throughout the year. May people see your joy in us and our joy in you, and seek that joy in their lives. We give you thanks and praise in the name of the child of Bethlehem, Amen!