a sermon on Luke 1:46-55 for the Third Sunday of Advent
preached on December 15, 2013, at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
(This sermon begins with a wonderful video from Holy Moly! telling the story of Mary and Elizabeth. Due to copyright restrictions, I cannot show it here, but I nonetheless highly recommend it!)
I simply love this telling of this wonderful story of Mary and Elizabeth. It’s from the series that our children started using this fall in Sunday School called “Holy Moly!” that uses humor and animation—and surprising splashes of color—to tell familiar and formative stories of the Bible. I’ve heard some incredible musical settings of this story over the years, but there was something particularly special to me about this one. Maybe it was Mary’s journey from uncertainty to rejoicing that was so simply yet beautifully depicted. Maybe it was Elizabeth’s reaction to Mary’s arrival, her recognition of the spread of this child’s wonder across the whole earth even before his birth. Maybe it was the babies’ seeming recognition that something special was going on. Maybe it was Mary’s response of confidence amidst the criticism that she received from those she passed along the road. Or maybe it was the incredible color bursting into the land around Mary on her journey back home, echoing so beautifully the prophet’s promise that we heard in our reading from Isaiah this morning:
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
Whatever the reason for my love of this brief movie, ultimately I found it deeply compelling because of how beautifully it lifts up the theme of joy. Today, the third Sunday of Advent, is Gaudete Sunday. This Latin word for “rejoice” is the first word of one of the traditional lectionary readings for this day from Philippians—“Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice”—and so this whole Sunday has taken up this theme of rejoicing, from the celebratory music that means that we are getting very close to Christmas to our scripture readings that celebrate joy and even to the pink candle that symbolizes not Mary’s secret wish for a girl for her first child but rather the level of rejoicing that comes for all through the birth of this amazing child. Amidst all the darkness of our world, amidst all the gun violence, all the cold weather and snow and slush and gray days, amidst all the homelessness, all the pain, all the holiday blues, amidst all the brokenness, all the war and conflict, all the things that separate us from God and one another, amidst all the places where God’s presence seems so far away, there is still a light of joy because God is stepping in to make all things new in Jesus Christ.
That’s ultimately the point of this story of Mary and Elizabeth. These two women didn’t understand why—or especially even how!—they were pregnant.Mary was still a virgin, and Elizabeth was well beyond childbearing age. They were the subject of constant scorn and sadness from their friends and family and especially from those who didn’t know them. And in the face of all this external pressure they were enduring the usual pains and struggles of pregnancy in a time when the safety of mother and child were far less certain. Yet they still found reason to rejoice together, to look beyond the uncertainties and pain of their present circumstance to a time when God’s new life would be full and complete in the world. They found reason to share the joy that was promised to them in these children who were growing inside them. They recognized that what they were experiencing would not only be a gift to them and their families but to all people everywhere, so they could do nothing less than celebrate the incredible and transformative presence of God in the midst of this wonder in their lives and their world.
We may not have the kind of gift that Mary and Elizabeth shared that brought them to rejoice in this way, but as we make our way to God’s holy mountain along the journey of Advent, we too are called to look for places to rejoice as they did. People in this day and age aren’t as good at rejoicing as we might think. Most of my friends are as likely to throw a party to forget their troubles as they are to celebrate something good. Many of us are taught from an early age that we must be careful how and when we show off our achievements so that we can demonstrate proper humility and grace, stifling our joy for these good things in our lives. And it is too often the norm that one of us feels the need to hold back good news to avoid offending someone else.
Yet this song of Mary’s joy in our reading from Luke today tells us that our rejoicing is good and proper and right, not just because there is something good happening to her, but because there is good news for all creation that all things will be made new again. In Mary’s song, we see the amazing reality that rejoicing can change the world when God is at work in places near and far, when the hungry are filled with good things, when the powerful are set aside so that God’s power can shine through, when God’s mercy can be the driving force behind all good things, when the world can be turned upside down to make room for God to be at work making all things new.
As we join in this journey of Advent to this high and holy place on the mountain of God, as we set forth in these final days toward Christmas to remember the wondrous gift of God in Christ that comes to us, as we look for God’s new thing to become real in our world, too, I believe that we are called to open our eyes in new ways to God’s joyous work, to sort out how we can offer our own song proclaiming God’s justice and mercy, and to raise our voices with a joyful shout of thanksgiving and praise for the greatness and mercy of God who comes to us in Jesus at Christmas and who promises to come again to make all things new.
May our lives be songs of rejoicing for this new thing until all things are made new in Christ Jesus our Lord! Lord, come quickly! Amen.