22 years ago this week, I became a mother. For all the mothers I know you know what a life altering event that is. Cooper arrived two weeks before Christmas to his two pastor parents and we celebrated the gift of life in new and profound ways!!! We brought him home and within a week a big snow storm hit our northeast corner of Tennessee robbing us of power. So there we were, sleeping on the living room floor, next to the fire trying to keep warm. You should have seen our black lab Chappel, who knew not to go into the living room, but now all of his family was nesting on the floor and he felt shut out even though we called him to join us near the fire. The poor dog just kept circling around the doorway. 22 years later, I am still amazed that our tiny baby boy has grown into a 6’ 5” young man.
Reminiscing about the birth of a child is natural. Praising God when you have been chosen to be the mother of God’s Son is joyous!!! Today we hear Mary sing her song of praise about bearing God’s Son. This song is called the Magnificat, from the Latin meaning my soul magnifies the Lord. This song parallels Hannah’s song when her prayer for a son was answered, and she was given Samuel, who she then dedicated to the Lord (1 Sam. 2:1-10). Both of these events take the God given power of birthing and creating life given to women and used that in these remarkable ways to further God’s kingdom. Both start with personal joy and gratitude and then moves on to the larger world and God’s plan through the gift of life. There are several parallels between Hannah and Mary’s songs, but I want to mention two. First pride is no more with the arrival of joy. Joy has an exuberance and light that does not abide with selfish desires. Mary certainly is not prideful, no she describes herself as God’s lowly servant. She is honored by what God has chosen her to do and joy swells within her breast. The second parallel is that there will be a reversal of the established order.
The lowly will be raised and the powerful will be brought down.
This marks the plan in God’s kingdom, that we move beyond our selfish ideas and enter into the joy and justice of being in the light of our Savior and Lord Jesus.
This week we held our second Blue Christmas Service- a time we sought to help those who did not feel the joy of Jesus, honor their losses and hopefully enter into Christ’s light. Please join us next year as we light candles and remember losses within the joy of the Christmas season. This process is so much like what the Psalmist declared. “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy” (5). We all know that expressing our hurts, feeling our pain needs to be honored so that we respect these tears in the hopes that once again we can reap the shouts of joy that we experience with the arrival of Jesus.
I believe that we can only know the fullness of joy if we have tasted the pit of despair. Consider the story of one young man. Sick and puny as a baby, he remained frail and delicate all his days. Later, as a pastor, his maladies were so severe that he could not serve his growing congregation. Instead he wrote them letters filled with hope and good cheer. Even though his body was frail his spirit soared. He complained once about the harsh and uncouth hymn texts of his day. Someone challenged him to write a better one. He did. He wrote over 600 hymns, mostly hymns of praise. When his health finally broke in 1748 he left one of the most remarkable collections of hymns that the world has ever known. His name? Isaac Watts. His contribution to the Christmas season? Probably the most sung of all the Christmas hymns, “Joy to the World; the Lord is come.” (Sermons.com, King Duncan). Remember him as you raise your voice to our Lord in praise at the close of the service.
Even our comics know the power of joy and praise. In a Peanut cartoon, Snoopy the dog is feeling great. He comes dancing into the first frame saying to himself: “Sometimes I love life so much I can’t express it!”
In the second frame he continues to dance: “I feel that I want to take the first person I meet into my arms and dance merrily through the streets.”
Then, in the third frame, he meets very grumpy Lucy. Snoopy is silent.
In the fourth frame, he is dancing again: “I feel that I want to take the SECOND person I meet into my arms and dance merrily through the streets.”
When you think about the possibilities that God offers us through the babe of Bethlehem it makes you want to dance. Just like the psalmist declares, “The Lord has done great things for them. The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoice!” (2-3). When we know God’s love, the joy it brings we want to dance, we rejoice!!!
Please think of a time of pure joy for you. Maybe a birth, maybe an accomplishment, maybe standing in God’s light knowing you are loved. Very often joy demands expression. It is part of the feeling, part of having this exuberance inside of you that you want to share it. C. S. Lewis the renowned author and theologian said this about joy.
“I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. If it were possible for a created soul fully to ‘appreciate,’ that is, to love and delight in, the worthiest object of all, and simultaneously at every moment to give this delight perfect expression, then that soul would be in supreme blessedness. To praise God fully we must suppose ourselves to be in perfect love with God, drowned in, dissolved by that delight which, far from remaining pent up within ourselves as incommunicable bliss, flows out from us incessantly again in effortless and perfect expression. Our joy is no more separable from the praise in which it liberates and utters itself than the brightness a mirror receives is separable from the brightness it sheds” (Lewis, C. S. (1958) Reflections on the Psalms). This Advent season we can be the mirror that reflects the brightness of the joy of Christ’s birth. We can help to shed God’s light in the world.
In closing I want to share with you one commentators experience in the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, GA. Theotokos is a kind of icon of mother with child, expressing the incarnation of Christ, Mary as the God bearer. In this monastery, Theotokos is represented in a large round stain glass window, a rose window above the alter. She writes, “I was shocked by the size of Mary’s womb. Mary sits in this glorious stain-glass circle with outstretched arms and a womb so large it contains Jesus standing as a grown man, with his arms open wide and enough room left over for God’s re-birthing of all creation. Every time I sit in that dark sacred womb-like monastery sanctuary, being rocked back and forth by the sounds of the monks chanting the Magnificent as evening falls, I am in awe of the Theotokos in the pregnant circle over the alter. The circle reminds me that Christ will come into the broken places in us and into the world where healing is needed. The circle reminds me that we are all pregnant with the possibility of new life, becoming more than we are, for God is with us and God is in us (Feasting on the Word, B1, p.84). Mary sings because she has new life in her, God’s Son. Are we ready to join in singing with her in joy, reflecting God’s light with the lifting of our voices? Amen.