Luke 1 : 47 -55 Joy The Rev. Dr. George Hermanson -Dec. 11 - 2011
2012 - As it gets close, the scaremongers of our age will increasingly gives us end of the world paranoia. Creating fear as part of our daily bread. Adding to our fear.
Fear of crime. Fear about the economy. Fear of terrorists. Fear is used to demonize those different from us. We hear fear in the rhetoric of politics, in pushing through a flawed crime bill. Fear causes us to retreat from life, a mind killer. It paralyzes us. It prevents us from acting. It isolates us from others.
This Advent Sunday the word that counters fear is Joy. Joy. It is the third spiritual gift and discipline of Advent. Advent is a way of strengthening our spiritual muscles, preparing ourselves for tough times, times of doubt, times when God seems absent or occupied elsewhere. Advent is about being thoughtful and meditative and quietly joyful in getting ready for Christmas Reflecting on the Joy of Advent means getting clear on what it means. We often confuse joy, which is a spiritual gift, with its secular, cultural counterparts - happiness, merriment, pleasure, gladness. Happiness, merriment, pleasure and gladness are all too superficial to be joy. They are emotional states, influenced by circumstances, responses to circumstances. They are outer directed.
Joy, on the other hand, is inner directed. Joy is a spiritual condition. Joy has about it a kind of serenity, deep pleasure, satisfaction in the sense of fulfillment and contentment, delight and bliss. No wimpy adjectives here. Joy is not dependent on external circumstances. Joy is about deep confidence in the presence of God in our lives and in the world. Joy helps us flourish.
Joy is a product of a spiritual state that wells up from within us, there for us to experience, to draw strength from, even on our worst days. Just as waiting becomes yearning, so happiness turns to its deep, spiritual counterpart - joy
Mary offers some hints in the reading from Luke. The Song of Mary is an ancient hymn of joy. Mary would be young - about twelve or thirteen years old. She is called a virgin - which means a very young woman who has just reached childbearing age, so is marriageable, but who has not given birth. She has just discovered the worst thing that can happen to a teenaged girl has happened to her. She discovers she is pregnant. And Joseph, her husband-to-be is clear that he is not the father.
Not a great time to sing a song of Joy, yet she does. In response to fear Mary sings. Her pondering in her heart ends in a song. She sings about hope, joy, and love that come with a birth. The singer offers a prayer that she will greet her son with arms of Love. Mary had the grace to be wide open to God's indwelling presence. I am reminded about this wide open love every time I see a child running toward her parent - or in the song Arms Wide Open.
This singing is world shaking, a real end of the world as we know it. This event challenges a stratified society where one is to be a good girl or a good boy, a rule keeper. This narrative challenges all stratified reality. For out of the despised - the dishonorable - the shameless - the useless - comes God's grace. Beginnings come out of unexpected places and times.
Advent days are days of anticipation and expectation to prepare us for such a birth in our heart. We are moving slowly to the event that defines us and shapes us. Along with Mary we are called to ponder how God works in our lives. Advent reminds us of the value in taking one's time to arrive at a destination. Instead of hurrying through a banquet, we take our time to relish, to taste each flavor of food. This is not the season for fast food, nor buffets, but a time of tasting, stopping, talking, tasting, and reflecting. Expectation, and taking time make all human activity more enjoyable. We want good things to last, and taking time trains us to make things last. This is why the Advent journey is so important to the Christmas season. It is a time of deep reflection upon what is important in life, and what makes life more enjoyable. It is a building of the melody until we cannot help but shout. God is here!
Advent teaches us that difficult situations don't evaporate; it doesn't promise that life is without difficulty. Faith does not remove the marks of suffering, but it can transform their meaning. Love feels our pain and transcends it. There is real danger and Joy gives us the strength to live in it.
The hymns of joy are descriptions of God's relation to the world and our relationship to God, our relationship with each other, and the world. Such praise illumines our days. Praise gives us the intuition that even when the world does not reflect the light of God's countenance, and it is still there. Beginning in joy we have a sense of a trace of God's presence with the world. This sense of joy can nourish hope as we live into the promise born of Mary.
As Mary sang "the Mighty One has done great things for me" we join in the singing. For out of great Joy we respond with deep caring. We are called to Mighty Acts of Joy.
Remember Isaiah. He reminds us that God is preparing a highway through desert times. Since the highway belongs to Yahweh, Yahweh's people can cross the desert in safety and continue to be holy, belong to, their God. This is a beautiful image of the power of God to keep God’s people even in dangerous places. Yahweh extends God’s sway, God’s kingdom into dangerous places and makes them safe and beautiful, full of life giving streams and vegetation. Paradise comes to the desert and the response is joy. God is part of every aspect of the universe and in it God’s loving presence is found.
As the poet Yeats says, in dangerous times, live with joy. Mary, young and ill equipped to deal with the dangerous times she faced, left us a spiritual treasure - a hymn of joy. Like her, we too live in dangerous times - our deserts - places and times when we are not certain. So we ask God to build a highway through the deserts of our hearts and minds making us holy, wholly belonging to God. This is our spiritual practice of Advent: waiting and expecting the presence of God. And we, like Mary, find Joy.
Joy - an orientation toward life that is founded on cultivating the gifts of hope and peace. Joy, an attitude and conviction that says that it is God who has the last word about life. Joy, rooted in the confidence that God is ultimately in charge of the world and of our lives. We can have deep peace and serenity, and even joy, in that knowledge