Tidings of Comfort and Joy!
This was an interactive sermon where I asked the congregation the questions in bold and waited for their input and responses to help shape the sermon and its focus. Consider these questions as directed to you personally and faithfully. -Pastor K
1. How would you describe joy?
Look around! There is a joy in the place that is visible. This sanctuary looks like a place that is preparing for the birth of a king!
“Joy is not a surface-level happy – it is deeply seated in one’s character. Joy may not always manifest itself in smiles and laughter, but rather in grace and assurance. Joy might be described as knowing something better exists, and holding onto that which is better.”
2. Can there be quiet joy?
Mary’s song, at first glance sounds like a quiet kind of joy.
Here is this young girl who is trying to prepare to be a parent (many of you will remember: there is NO way to truly prepare for the change that comes with children.) and to be the mother of God!
What a relief it was for her to not have to explain anything to her cousin, Elizabeth – who simply knows, when her child leaps in acknowledgment of his own cousin.
Barbara Brown Taylor says of the Magnificat, “Mary’s song is music that comes from deep within her … she sings for Elizabeth and both of their babies.” And then it seems like things get carried away in the middle of the song. “She is no longer singing the song; the song is singing her. This teenager is no politician, no revolutionary; she simply wants to sing a happy song, but all of a sudden she has become an articulate radical, an astonished prophet singing about a world in which the last have become first and the first, last.”
At Christ’s birth, we hear that Mary ponders everything in her heart. But hear, she is dreaming of the future and what God is about to do for the world and she experiences great joy that we are not left to our own defenses – that God is about to break into the world in a most remarkable way! It’s important to remember, here, that this reflection on God turning things upside down is happening before Christ’s ministry, before Christ preaches the Sermon on the Mount or challenges the status quo. But already, we hear that things are changing. John Ortberg reflects with a religious imagination whether Jesus himself learned ‘his material’ – about the poor and the hungry and the meek being blessed – from his mother. “Did he learn from her that God has no intention of tolerating the injustice and greed of this world on a permanent basis?” (Christian Century, December 2009). If this is so,
3. Why is joy so often paired with comfort?
Highlight Scripture’s focus on contrast – that “in opposition to brokenness, wrongs, sorrows, and sighs, God will prevail, and one day all shall be well.”
Why is comfort so important? When do we need comfort the most?
Mary’s song is not in the future tense but in the past tense as if the good that her son will do for the world is already completed, as if the promises of God have already come true. “Prophets almost never get their verb tenses straight, because part of their gift is being able to see the world as God sees it – not divided into things that are already over and things that have not happened yet, but as an eternally unfolding mystery that surprises everyone” (Barbara Brown Taylor, “Singing Ahead of Time” in Home by Another Way).
This, I think, is where we find the comfort and why it is so important for us to sing with Mary. We are singing for joy that the way the world is, is not the way the world always will be. We are seeking and embracing God’s vistion.
4. Do you live joy? How?
“One filled with joy preaches without preaching.” (Mother Teresa)
When we live with joy, we are confident in God’s presence, God’s ability to shape the future and guide our steps. Joy has a way of overriding our human propensity to worry and try to control things. Joy lets us relax into a plan that was set in motion at the very beginning of time.
Let us pray,
God of comfort, help us to believe in your ability to turn the world upside down, to turn our mourning into dancing, to turn our crying into singing, to turn our doubts into belief. God of joy, help us to sing with confidence, to praise you in faith, and to look expectantly towards your future. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.