“Sing For Joy!”
Luke 1:57-80; Luke 1:26-56
Luke 2:8-15; Luke 2:25-36
December 11, 2016
3rd Sunday in Advent
Chilmark Community Church
Rev. Vicky Hanjian
A lot of the focus of Advent has to do with anticipation of the coming of a messiah -an anointed one – who will liberate God’s people from whatever it is that binds them. Historically, the Messiah was anticipated as a great military leader who would help Israel throw off the yoke of oppression. That expectation grew out of anguish and suffering over the many centuries of Israel’s difficult history. Throughout the readings for Advent we read about and acknowledge the darkness in the world – – we hear the prophetic voice of Isaiah calling the children of God to turn around – to repent, to reclaim their rightful identity as the children of God. We hear the prophets speaking truth to power, warning of the dire consequences that will come to leaders and to the people if they neglect the works of justice and mercy and compassion. The prophetic message is heavy today because there is a lot of heaviness in the world, differing only in degree from what the great prophets witnessed. But we need to be confronted with the darkness of the world – we need to acknowledge how pervasive it is and how helpless we feel at times when we realize the enormity of it. If we are to have minds and hearts that are fully open to the great light of the coming of Jesus we must first come to terms with the weight of the world. If we want to be able to fully enjoy all the goodness of God that enters life with the birth of this beautiful Anticipated One, we need first to recognize all the ways in which we need this birth to happen. That is the spiritual work of Advent.
But today is the day we light the candle of Joy. We shift our attention to the stories of those most intimately associated with the Holy Birth – – faith stories imbedded with powerful metaphors that point the way to understanding the truth of the Incarnation; stories of the birth that signifies that The Holy One draws near, and indeed, decides to pitch a tent among us – to dwell with us – becoming as we are – – Human – – A Fleshy, Happy, Sad, Rejoicing, Suffering, Living and Dying Human Being.
Joy is the theme of the day. In the order of worship, we first encountered the joy of Zechariah – – father of John the Baptizer – – who became quite mute after the terrifying encounter with an angel who announced to him that his aging wife Elizabeth would have a child. At the beginning of Luke’s gospel (Luke 1:3 – 23) there is an account of the event. Zechariah questions the truth of the angel’s promise that the couple will have a son in their old age. The angel causes a muteness to fall upon Zechariah until the events come to pass. It is at the circumcision and naming of his son, John, that Zechariah’s voice returns – and in a state of ecstatic joy, he sings the song we used for our call to worship this morning. Imagine, if you can, what it would be like to be the parent of the child would be the one who would prepare the way for the Expected One! It is customary to bestow a blessing on a child at the time of circumcision. Zechariah’s song contains a blessing (Luke 1:68-79) for his son, John:
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break in upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace.
There is no greater joy than to know what the direction and purpose of our life might be in the service of Highest One and to be able to live it out. The story tells us that from the moment of his conception, it was clear what the service of John would be. A forerunner – – an opener of the way – a preparer of the path – – a bringer of knowledge to the people who waited. The blessing of being the forerunner of the Expected One illuminated his whole family – – and Zechariah sang for joy.
Zechariah’s beloved wife, Elizabeth, comes into the foreground of the story not long after Mary discovers she is pregnant. Elizabeth is Mary’s cousin – perhaps the wise elder woman in Mary’s life. She is 6 months pregnant when she and Mary greet each other – – and the infant in her womb leaps for joy as Elizabeth greets Mary – the two unborn infants are connected not just by bloodlines – they will carry out a holy mission together – and their initial meeting is one of great joy and recognition. Elizabeth gives Mary a blessing (Luke 1:41-45):
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me – that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
When the recognition and the validation of Elizabeth’s joy and blessing reach Mary’s ears, she too bursts into song (Luke 1:46-56) :
“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. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me and holy is his name.”
With each recognition of the truth of what is about to happen, the joy in the story takes another leap. The anticipation goes on for the rest of Elizabeth’s pregnancy – – continues through the circumcision of her son and gets amplified exponentially in the story of the angelic visitation to the shepherds in the fields at the time of the birth of Jesus. With the announcement of the birth of Jesus, the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven burst into joyous song:
Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom God favors.
We don’t talk a whole lot about angels in our very staid Protestant traditions – who they might be – – what they might mean as we encounter them in the scriptures – – but here in this story, they seem to signify a great opening between the invisible realm of the Holy and the concrete and fleshy realm of humanity – – and they sing their “glorias” throughout the heavens and on the earth. And, indeed, is that not who Jesus is? – – the great opening between humankind and the Holy realms that exist beyond our sight? Isn’t that what the story of the birth and life and death of Jesus eventually come to mean? Does he not become for us “the bridge over troubled waters” that helps us make the connecting link between our human lives and the Divine Life? The angels in scripture are almost universally messengers – -beings who traffic between heaven and earth – making glimpses of the Holy real in the midst of our lives. And here they break through with joy to a group of shepherds on a hillside – possibly scaring them silly – – Ecstatic joy sometimes really terrifies people. But those hearty souls recover and run “to Bethlehem to see this thing that has happened.”
The last song that we find in the story is sung on the 8th day after the birth of Jesus when he is brought to the temple by his parents to be circumcised in keeping with Jewish tradition. We will use it as our closing hymn today. Simeon, a faithful Jew, who spends every spare moment in the temple praying, has been waiting for a long time for the promise of God’s Anointed One to be fulfilled. God had promised
Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Simeon takes the infant Jesus into his arms and sings for joy (Luke 2:29-32):
Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a Light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of your people Israel.
Simeon then gives a blessing to the parents and to their infant son.
Our faith stories are filled with songs of joy – – joy at promises given and received; joy at promises kept; joy at the revelations of Divine Glory that occasionally break through to our worldly lives – illuminating us with truth that far surpasses the words on the written page. In each instance of joy a blessing is either given or received – – and lives unfold in a dramatically new way.
When we spend time with the stories and let the metaphors point us toward the truth they contain, we may find that even in the midst of the mundane and sometimes even tragic and hopeless events of our lives, there is reason for joy beyond our human understanding. It breaks through in unexpected places at unanticipated times – challenging us – surprising us – bringing lightness and well being with it. And with all that comes an unexpected opening where the Life of a New Born King enters in and makes its home with us.
The rose candle, the third one lighted on the wreath today, reminds us to stop and take time to recognize and acknowledge and celebrate and even sing for the joy in our lives. May joy abound. AMEN