Pastor Rachel B. Livingston 

I. Beginnings

We have entered into our third week of advent, the season of expectant waiting, where we are waiting through the Christmas season as we follow the story of the birth of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ, we are waiting for Christ to reveal himself among us in the present, and we are waiting for the return of Jesus Christ that will take us into the future age as we meet God in the Kingdom of heaven.  But as we wait in this Advent season, we are aware that the world around us is celebrating the Christmas season.  Lights, nativity scenes, Santa Clause, trees, Christmas carols, presents, gift wrap, shopping, online shopping carts and in person shopping bags, Christmas tree ornaments, stars upon the tree, angels to top the tree, all unique markers for this season as we prepare for Christmas morning that arrives on December 25th.  We scramble around buying gifts for one another, trying to make sure that the Christmas season is the most incredible time for us and our loved ones.  We are caught up in the picture-perfect stories of Christmas fairytales and love on the Hallmark and Lifetime channels.  We lose ourselves in the Christmas spirit with thoughts of joy, love, hope, promise, Christmas magic, and Christmas cheer.  We want to have ourselves a Merry little Christmas because of course this is the most wonderful time of the year.  It is a joyous time, a joyous occasion for most of us.

 II. Sometimes This Season Can Be Heavy

But for some in this Christmas season, it is not filled with happiness but a heaviness of heart. There is no Christmas magic that produces miracles in this season, there is no perception of hope for greater things to come, and in some cases there is no prospect of the tides turning around, as the grief of the time will be forever present because of the loss of a loved one or the burning visions of memories that we don’t want to revisit, or maybe memories that are joyous but we don’t want to revisit them because they remind us of what we no longer have. Sometimes we are in a downright Ba-humbug mood. It is a time, for some of us, where we struggle to buy gifts for our loved ones because we are struggling financially, we can’t make ends meet, much less have additional funds to buy gifts for others.  It is a time where, for some of us, we feel the loneliness of the season as we miss a loved one or the memories of Christmas past, a heaviness of the heart as we remember a warm embrace, a kind voice, or a laugh.  For some of us we are dealing with the heaviness of depression and anxiety and it is just so hard to force a smile just because everyone else is happy at this time of year.  For some of us, the pandemic has put a halt to the normal traditions we have during the Christmas season, so we have the sorrow that we might not be able to build the memories that we are used to having each year.  For some of us we just cannot get into the Christmas spirit, no matter how hard we try.  Being happy in this Christmas season doesn’t seem to be a concept we understand because the heaviness of life has taken over, when will happiness hit us, and why can’t we just be happy like everyone else.  How can we even conceive of having a Merry Little Christmas when happiness doesn’t even seem to be on the horizon?  It is the most wonderful time of the year, but we cannot get ourselves to feel it.  As we wait in this Advent season, for some of us we are waiting in a darkness that we hope brings about the happiness that we expect to be present in this season.  But instead fear, worry, struggle, and sadness are hanging on to us like a companion. But the reality that is brought into this advent season is that Christ is our joy – our joy in the midst of the heaviness of heart – and when I say that I don’t mean to just forget your troubles and just get happy because Christ is there or even that your problems will go away.  But I am saying that Jesus is the joy that goes beyond a temporal happiness, but a sense of joy that sits with us in the midst of our sorrow, a joy that comforts and is present with us in loneliness, a joy that is the warmth that works in us through our healing process in the midst of depression and anxiety.  Jesus is the joy that is present as a warm, comfort, loving, and familiar companion in the midst of all that weighs heavy on our hearts in this season.

 III. Mary’s Story

Our scripture this morning holds the joys of a mother to be, Mary, a song from her heart that we like to call the Magnificat. It flows with such passion from her heart with thankfulness, joy, and hope for what God has promised for centuries. She is assured of God’s faithfulness and is moved to the place where she must rejoice.  She lifts her voice in song as she stands firm in her praise to God Almighty, while also uplifting how God has been so faithful – God had promised a messiah that would bring about the salvation of Israel, and here God was bringing about this form of redemption, for not only Israel, but for the rest of the world. And even in the midst of all this, God had thought enough of her to use her as a vessel to bring about this hope for a bright future and peace that comforts the world.  She was not a woman of extreme status, she wasn’t rich, but here she was, being made part of the process as God brought about the salvation of the world.  In this moment she was affirmed by God as a person of worth, which had been denied by society, because she was young, woman, poor, a minority under an oppressive regime, and she was unwed.  Even in today’s society she might be looked down upon as a wayward teenage mother, poor, with very little resources to help take care of her child.  But she takes joy in the fact that despite what the world has placed upon her shoulders, despite the fact that society has tried to label her, she has been lifted up and affirmed by God and God alone.

But in many ways, we are seeing the end of the story, we are seeing Mary’s moment of rejoice without seeing where she came from to get to this moment.  We see her reclaim her joy, we see her lift up the promise that this coming child brings, we see her proclaim God’s affirmation of her, we see that she has put on her joy in the midst of all that she is going through. We are seeing the end result that is her joy.  We are seeing her place of rejoice without visiting the journey that led there, we are seeing her praise and worship moment without seeing the hum and beat of the blues that may have brought her there. 

Our scripture allows us into the moment of God answering the calls of the people, as we know, the people of Israel had been waiting for the promised Messiah.  They had endured centuries of a somewhat façade of freedom as they lived under the occupation of Roman rule. The people were subjects of a ruling empire that denied them rights of citizenship and had very little concern for their well-being.  And Mary, Mary in all of this was a young girl probably around the age of 13 or 14.   She was poor, she was a Jew – culturally she was old enough to be considered an adult, but in many ways she was still young, naïve, and unexperienced – still experiencing life with the eyes of wonder and exploration -experiencing life bright eyed and bushy tailed.  She lived in a patriarchal society that would not value her as a person because she was a woman, but not just any old woman, a young woman who was in this limbo area between woman and child, both classifications in society that were not considered as persons, but beings that needed protection of a man.  So she was a female child, but also a woman, she was unattached to man and on the brink of the safety of being married in a society that would not value her worth unless she was married, and even then society would only marginally appreciate her.

She is standing in this moment, sticking to the uneventful humdrum of things, that keeps her in her preset societal status. And yet she is approached by an angel, whose arrival probably scares her out of her wits, because here she is minding her own business and yet she is young, she is alone, she is vulnerable.  And in this moment the angel of the Lord lets her know that the Holy Spirit will come upon her, and from her womb a child will be born, a holy child, the son of God. The end of the story expresses joy and excitement, but it is likely that if we read beyond the lines of the text, if we dig deep to the real emotions of Mary within the text, if we separate our characters from the elevated pedestal we place them on and consider that they may have real feelings like us, we may see that the feelings in this moment may have not been so happy and excited.  Yes, they may have evolved and moved to a place of happiness and joy, they may have moved to a place where joy could exist among all that was happening, but the situation likely may not have started there.  Yeah, she said, “Here I am, let it be with me according to your word.”  But even these words could have been said with worry, nervousness, hesitant agreement, confusion, and doubt. It is likely that she was in a place of shock and awe, not really knowing all that she had agreed to.  Sometimes when God calls us to things, we have the hope and wonder of the possibilities, but the upcoming opportunities can be frightening and nerve-wrecking.  This promise probably left her with so many questions.  When the holy spirit came upon her would it hurt, how could it make a baby, is this what God really wants for her, would she be ready to carry a child, would she even be ready to raise a child? And what about her engagement to Joseph, would he believe her?  He would be sure to leave her because surely, he would never believe that she could birth a child without having slept with a man. And yet he was the one who could keep her from societal ostracization.   Surely the people of the town would shun her because they would never believe she held onto her innocence now that she was with child.  Who would believe that she had become pregnant by the Holy Spirit?  Who would believe that she was carrying the son of God?  And how would her child have a productive life if she were rejected by the town, if she didn’t have someone to take care of her, because her husband to be would surely abandon them in this situation. What would the future hold?  She was young, vulnerable, alone, and on the verge of being the town’s outcast.  The initial response may bring on feelings of fear, anger, sadness, and worry for all that was about to happen rather than happiness.

So Mary, the mother of our Lord, Jesus, rushes through the land to reach the one person who has been a friend a solace to her in times past, her cousin Elizabeth. And it is in this moment that God not only affirms that God is with her but also affirms that greatness of what is to come. As Mary comes face to face with Elizabeth there is an affirmation of the joy that her child would bring, the promise that God had given her, as the baby within Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy.  As she was able to sit with her companion in a place of comfort, Christ was able to present himself as the hope for tomorrow and she was able to be filled with joy.  We aren’t aware of the of the whole conversation that Elizabeth and Mary had.  But we can assume that Elizabeth with many more years than Mary likely gave her some wisdom, some perspective, some peace that showed her the greatness of what was coming, showed her joy that is present within God.  Isn’t it funny how God sometimes brings us a companion of comfort to point us to the joy that is Jesus Christ?  We as the people of God are called to be that light that points the world to the Joy of Jesus Christ in this Christmas season and always.

But as she gained comfort and perspective, wisdom and guidance, she was able to feel the presence of joy wrap itself around her and overwhelm her with joy, so much so that her joy flowed out of her heart and she was moved to song.  Society had not changed the way they had seen her, Joseph had not yet vowed to stick around, the present things that hung above her did not change.  But God had chosen her, God had affirmed her worth, God had looked through all the world and claimed her, gave her a role of a lifetime, in her the lowly had been lifted.  In choosing her, God had taken away the power that the world thought they had to label her and claimed her not only as a Child of God, but a vessel used to bring about the son of God.  And in God’s affirmation of her she found joy, in God’s presence she found joy, in God’s gift she found joy.

 IV. Christ Brings Joy

But this was a different type of joy, it wasn’t just a temporal feeling of happiness, but a deeper guttural peace of God’s presence that says, in the midst of all the mess, I will praise God anyhow because God is with me.  It is a joy that can change lives because it is a joy that is present in Jesus Christ.  This is the joy that affirmed that this coming child was the salvation that the Lord promised.  This was the joy that proclaimed that the coming child was the equalizer that made all people equal under God.  She was filled with the joy that affirmed her as a child of God, even her, a lowly girl from the Nazareth area, a place where it was proclaimed that nothing good could come from, and not only was her personhood established but she was lifted up as part of the plan for salvation.  This joy that she had, shouted to the rooftops this child that was coming was the liberation of her people.  This joy that she had, showed that this child that was coming was the great hope. This joy that she had, lifted up that this child was great peace. This joy that she had, said that in this child the hungry are fed, in this child the captives are set free, in this child the lame walk, in this child the blind can see, in this child is the redemption of the world,  in this child was the one who brought salvation to the world from hanging on a tree, in this child was the new life that came through resurrection. In this Child was the presence that brings joy into the world.

 But we must remember that in this moment, none of her problems were dismissed nor did they disappear, but somewhere in there she found joy. Joy because God was with her, and joy for the great possibilities on the horizon.  Joy with what was to come, joy for tomorrow, joy as she waited for the coming child, joy that freedom was on the horizon, joy that what her people had held onto for so long was coming, joy in the midst of her circumstance.  In this season we must hold to the joy that is Jesus Christ, and we must be like Mary and proclaim our joy to the world, through song, proclamation, but mainly through our actions that show Christ lives within us and has transformed us. Because when we do, those who are plagued by a heaviness of heart will know what joy is and where joy comes from.

So what we see from this story is that sometimes within all of sorrows, our fears, our nervousness, all of the things that keep us from the greatness of this season, sometimes the things that hang heavy over us will not necessarily go away immediately.  But as we hold onto the promise of the hope of Jesus Christ, as we hold on to this season of waiting for Christ to reveal himself and lead his people in this moment, as we hold onto the salvation that is Jesus Christ, we are reminded that joy comes.  Joy is not having no troubles, no worries, or no sadness – joy is the will to sing a melody of rejoicing to the beat of the blues that is life, joy is the presence of Christ among us that gives us hope, joy  the presence of Christ among us that gives us peace.  Joy is the comfort of Christ that lets us know even in the rough moments Christ is with us, comforting us, crying with us, feeling with us.  It is almost impossible to cut off our problems without going through the storm or healing through the issue, but what the joy of Christ tells us is that the joy of Christ can exist even in the midst of it all.  As we see that amazing possibilities that come through Christ, joy can sit with us and rest on us even in the complexities of chaos.

Christ is not a distant deity that is not concerned with our everyday.  Instead, we realize as we wait, that Christ is continually present and moving among us, bringing us hope, peace, and joy.  Let us proclaim the joy of Jesus Christ to the rest of the world that they might be led to the joy of Jesus Christ! 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. May we be filled with the joy that is Christ in this season.  Amen.