Carried by Joy and Love

Luke 1: 39-45

“My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”    Luke 1: 39-45

One can hardly imagine a more humble, ordinary scene: two pregnant women talking in a small Judean town. And yet, in this ordinary moment a revolution is beginning that will turn the world on its head. It is a reversal of all the world’s expectations of power, justice, and salvation. And it is exactly how God works.

A savior had been promised to the world, and it was hoped that this savior would change the political and social landscape of Jerusalem; much like King David did 1000 years earlier. No one could possibly believe that two women – one old and one very young – would be the people God would choose.

Mary was a second-class citizen, deemed not worthy of conversation or consideration. She had little or no authority, virtually no rank or status in her culture.

Mary, who saw herself as a “servant of the Lord;” a servant, one who was waiting upon the Lord, is whom God chose to bear and deliver the savior of the world.

When Mary races over to the house of her relative Elizabeth, she discovers that her encounter with the angel was no mere fantasy. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and cries to Mary,

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” (v. 42)

Elizabeth describes Mary as

“The mother of my Lord” (v. 43)

Both an affirmation and confirmation of what the angel had told Mary.

Elizabeth is a huge help to Mary, giving support, offering encouragement and sharing a sense of overflowing love and joy.

Throughout the gospel of Luke, God’s love and joy emerges again and again, beginning with the Christmas angels bringing good tidings of great joy (2:10).

The two themes begin to emerge: called out of love to serve the Lord and to do so with joy. The one follows the other.

On this fourth Sunday of Advent, we are reminded that authentic Christian living requires a sense of service; it will inevitably, if done correctly, put us in situations where we are called to love and serve people, wait on others, minister to the needy, and lift up the fallen.

But such a life will also bear the fruits of God’s love and joy: The joy of forgiveness, the joy of healing, leading to a called ministry to share God’s love, a love which offers new life.

So often we forget this, especially at Christmastime, when our lives are swamped by the pressure to feel happy, happy about parties, pageants, and the presents we give and receive.

The love and joy that comes to us at Christmastime, when you think about it, is both simpler and more significant than happiness.

Happiness is linked to festivities, while joy is tied to forgiveness;

Happiness is about new things, while joy is about new life;

Happiness comes from finding a way to keep the peace between assorted relatives after three days of Christmas togetherness, while joy comes from finding our place in the family of God.

Love and joy, it’s what Jesus came to earth to give us, and what Elizabeth helps Mary to feel as she discovers her destiny as the mother of the Lord.

Not that we should be surprised that Elizabeth is in touch with her own joy; after all, she is rejoicing in the child she herself is carrying in her womb, knowing that her child (and every child) is a gift from God.

After receiving Elizabeth’s blessing, Mary bursts into a song of praise.

“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.”

God could have selected a queen or a princess or an aristocratic heiress to be the mother of the Lord, but he doesn’t. Instead, God goes for the weary teenager trying to make her way through life the best she can.

It’s a surprising selection, but it shows God’s hand — it reveals the plan for God’s ongoing involvement in the world.

Meg and I enjoy going out to eat. As I think about our most memorable dining experiences, they were always memorable because of being served by an attentive and caring waitress or waiter. A wait staff that is friendly, listens well, and doesn’t rush you can mean the difference between a wonderful evening out or a real disappointing one, even if the food is excellent.

For twenty-eight months while I was the interim minister at First Presbyterian Church in Michigan City, IN, Meg and I were apart every week from Monday to Thursday. Our tradition was, upon my arrival home on Thursday, we would go out to eat at our favorite restaurant near us to enjoy a leisurely dinner. It was a special night; since we had been apart for 3½ days, it was a time to relax and catch up with each other’s week. Another reason that it was special was that we were served by the same waitress almost every Thursday. Stephanie was full of joy; she often greeted us at the door and saw to it that we were seated at our favorite booth called a “snug.” She served us and waited on us with such joy and love.

Mary says, God has “filled the hungry with good things.” It’s a fascinating line that suggests the image of God as the waiter or the waitress, feeding those who are hungry and clearing the table of those who are already full. If you are in need, God will help you, God will be right there with you.

Jesus followed this same path as he waited on the spiritually starving people of the world. After he broke bread and shared wine with his disciples at the Last Supper, a dispute arose about which one of his followers was to be regarded as the greatest. Jesus knew very well that a customer is usually regarded as being greater than a waiter, but he turned these expectations on their head when he said to his disciples,

“I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).

I’m a servant, insists Jesus, not a customer, in effect challenging his disciples to take their place on the other side of the table.

Tom Oden, theologian and well-known author, says that: “We lead by serving and we serve by leading.”

Dr. Roy Medley, General Secretary of American Baptist Church states that there is a difference between servant hood and servitude.

Servitude is imposed; servant-hood is embraced.
Servitude enslaves; servant-hood emancipates.
Servitude denigrates; servant-hood uplifts.
Servitude crushes; servant-hood fulfills.
Servitude despairs; servant-hood rejoices!

Servant-hood is the key to Christmas love and joy. The little-known secret of Christmas is that our love and our joy are full when we learn from Mary as servant, when we learn from Jesus as servant, and then become servants ourselves.

The writer of Luke reminds the readers both then and now that God comes in ways that surprise us and fill us with love and joy. The lowly and the meek are the ones who bring plenty; women are the ones to nurture a revolution; and God chooses to work in and through the most powerless among us.

Just like Mary and Elizabeth, God has also chosen to act in us. We are called to sing with Mary and Elizabeth. To sing with Joy! To magnify the Lord! As we sing we are filled with a greater power and our ordinary lives begin to show forth and deliver His love and presence in the world.

So let us sing:

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing.”

And as we sing, our love and our joy will be full and complete.

 

Let us pray:

In hope, in peace, in joy and in love, O God, we have come together to worship you on this glorious day. We are surrounded by the light from our Advent Candles. We come to sing and to pray, to listen to and to be renewed by the good news of your love to us in Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ, who is about to be born anew in our hearts, souls, and minds. Remind us that there is no greater power than love. It is stronger than rulers and empires, stronger than grief or despair, stronger, even, than death. We love, because God loves us. Bless us this day that our lives may be made confident by your Spirit so that we may joyously and lovingly share the gift of Jesus Christ with all your people. Amen