Read Luke 1:39-45
This is the third Sunday of Advent. The days seems to be moving more quickly as we approach that sacred night and blessed Christmas morning. Traditionally the third Sunday of Advent belongs to Mary, the mother of Jesus, blessed among women, bearer of the light of God which shines in our darkness. It is a day of joy as we rejoice with her at the news of such a blessing, the blessing of a child, a son born to a lowly woman, who will bring salvation and light to the entire world.
I love this text where Mary goes to visit her relative Elizabeth to share the news of her pregnancy. I can still remember the anxious joy my wife and I felt when we first shared the news of Allison’s pregnancy with our daughter Olivia with our loved ones. We intentionally plotted out each of the different ways we wanted to share our joyous news. As we shared, the look, the reaction, the tears, the love, the abundant joy. All of these are moments of deep and profound grace that we were able to share with those who are most dear to us.
I love in this story how Mary moves with haste, with purpose and with joy to visit Elizabeth. Upon entering into Elizabeth’s house Mary greets Elizabeth. And in that moment something wondrous happens. The child within Elizabeth’s womb, John the Baptist, leaps with joy. The text says: “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.’”
What a moment. An intimate and loving moment of pure joy with undeniable hope. It got me thinking as I prepared this week for our worship this morning, what sounds bring you joy? Think about it for a moment, what sounds do you hear in your life that bring you joy?
Maybe it’s the sound of your grandchild’s voice the very first time they learned to call you learned to call you Grammy.
Or maybe it’s the sound of your coffee pot brewing in the morning, as you go about your daily ritual, doing all the things you need to do to prepare yourself to face a new day.
Perhaps it’s the way your spouse’s voice changes when they tell you about something they are just absolutely jazzed about that is happening at work. And as they share with you their energy and that life that they are sharing is just infectious.
Or maybe it’s all the quiet sounds of the woods in fall, as you walk through them lightly on a brisk morning, the wind blowing through the trees, the remaining birds softly singing their songs. And the world just feels right.
These sounds make up our life. They surround us and come to us in expected and unexpected moments of grace and love and they fill our hearts to overflowing with a joy that comes as a gift from the most high God. These sound are a gift of God’s grace, that unearned love, which undergirds and underlies our entire existence, that love which makes itself known in big awesome holy moments of awe and wonder, and in everyday kind of moments of connection, love and hope.
This is one of the moments we have pictured in our text this morning. A moment shared between two women, each expecting a child, each filled with all of the anxiety, fear, hope and excitement that comes with news that you will become a parent. Each filled with joy for themselves and one another.
These are beautiful and sacred moments and sounds, but if we are being honest, our lives are also filled with a different kind of sound. The sounds that don’t fill our hearts, the ones that annoy and frustrate us to no end. Those sounds that we encounter in our world that are like the nails on a chalk board they send a shiver down your spine, they fill you with anger, frustration and sometimes even despair.
The sound of that one person honking their horn when you’re stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. And they are honking and honking at you, even though everyone knows you can’t go anywhere or do anything.
The sound of your child who starts to cry in that moment right when you were about to fall asleep, it wakes you up as they fall back asleep quickly and easily, but that rush of adrenaline that hit you means you’re sitting up in bed fully awake desperately trying to get back to sleep.
There is the sound of the doctors voice as they share with you that diagnosis that you’ve been dreading, that your loved one does in fact have cancer.
There is the sound of another customer who is annoyed with something totally beyond your control as they share, at length, all the things you and your company just can’t do right.
The list could go on and on and on. These sounds populate our existence, they are part of this thing that we call our life and the truth is that sometimes these sounds of frustration, anger, despair or loneliness, they seem to be a little bit louder than all the sounds that bring us joy. Sometimes these sounds of darkness seem more pervasive, more normal, more ubiquitous, so much so that we start to believe that these are the true soundtrack of our universe, the soundtrack to the way the world actually operates.
But our story today, the story of two young women steeped in hope and love, overflowing with joy for one another and for themselves, it reminds us that the story of Advent and Christmas tells us that this isn’t true, that the sounds that take us away from hope, the sounds that bring us to a place of despair, the sounds which fill us solely with irritation, these are actually a detour, a blip, from the way the world actually is.
Because the story of Advent and the story of Christmas is a story about a God who loves us so much that God came to be with us in the flesh, God came and made a home among us, right in the midst of the cacophony of annoying noises, redeeming all things, saving us by the wonders of his love, and making our joy complete.
And as people of faith we are called to live with that complete joy, to choose joy in our lives, to let that joy shine forth for others and the whole world. But what does it mean for us to have our joy made complete, or to live with our joy right out there for all in the world to see?
When I think about this I think of a story I once heard a pastor tell about two spiritual giants in our world. This pastor, who is this famous mega church pastor relayed a story of being invited to a panel along with Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu and the Dali Lama. They were all asked to speak together. And in case you don’t know, and I didn’t, the Dali Lama and Desmond Tutu are good friends, like really, really good friends.
So this mega church pastor is in the green room waiting and preparing for this panel conversation he is going to have with these two spiritual and intellectual giants of our time, when all of the sudden he sees Arch Bishop Tutu and the Dali Lama have each entered the room from opposite side. The men spot each other and their faces light up with love and joy. And the pastor said they started to playfully creep across the room toward each other, meeting right in the middle of the room where the pastor was sitting and they started to have a tickle fight with one another. Right there, in the green room, just before they went out on stage as part of this prestigious panel, talking about injustice and oppression and all the ways they present themselves.
I am sure you know the history of what these men have endured and all that they have led through. The persecution, the fear, the violence, the hatred. The Dali Lama and Arch Bishop Tutu have seen the worst of humanity, the worst that we have to offer. And yet, here they are, they are not hiding their joy, they are not living in despair, they are filled with a joy that overflows in love for one another, a joy that is truly infectious, a joy that has been made complete.
Do you ever find yourself wanting to hide your joy? Maybe it’s because you think you don’t deserve to be happy. Or perhaps you are worried about being joyful because someone in your life is experiencing pain. Or maybe you’re just unsure if you are actually allowed to be happy.
Our story today tells us that we are allowed to be happy, we are allowed to be filled with joy, we deserve it not because of how great we are, or all the wonderful things we did to earn it, we deserve it or better yet, we are worthy of it because our God is a God of grace who proclaims that we are unbelievable worthy because we are cherished by him. Because our God looks upon all of us, no matter who we are or what we’ve done, and proclaims that we are loved.
So let your joy shine, let your love out. Be that presence for others in this world, not just during the Advent and Christmas season, which is a great start, but live your life filled with joy all year long. And if you find yourself feeling lost, alone or maybe this season of joy is particularly hard because your are in the midst of deep grief, don’t feel guilty that you aren’t there right now. It’s ok to feel sad, just like it’s ok to feel joyful, just know that you are not alone even though it might feel that way. Allow your church family to hold you in love and light even if you can’t and know that no matter what you are going through it will not have the last word.
So as we prepare to go forth, may the light of God’s grace shine in our hearts, filling them up to the brim with all the spiritual gifts of the season, hope, peace, love and this day especially joy and may our joy be made complete. Thanks be to God. Amen.