Jumping for Joy

Luke 1:39-49 & Luke 2:8-11
4th Sunday of Advent
Elizabeth M. Deibert

Lord Jesus, our light, our peace, our hope, our joy, renew us by your Word and Spirit.

When our kids were little we had this little bouncy seat which hung from the door frame. The best way to make a fussy one year old happy was to put her or him in this bouncy seat to jump, jump, jump into joy.

I remember the joy of Christmas Eve as a child myself, where just the sound of bells outside the family room window would get me jumping up and down with glee. I remember faces of my own children when they walked out on Christmas morning. Tired parents. Joyful children to make all the tiredness worthwhile.

A friend of Andrew’s asked me on Friday if I was ready for Christmas. I said “No, how about you?” He said, “I’ve been ready since Thanksgiving.” Now I’m afraid that neither of us really had the right spirit of readiness. He had that boy-like twinkle in his eye about the day as if it could not come fast enough. I had that ultra-responsible adult attitude. “Well, of course, I’m not ready. There are still gifts to buy and wrap. There’s a house to clean and meals to plan.” And then my mind raced also to pastoral duties, which I did not mention. Ready for Christmas? Ha, no pastor is ever ready for Christmas on December 17. There are services to complete and people to contact and preparations to be made. I’ll be ready for Christmas when I walk in the front door of the house after our Christmas Eve service. That’s when I’ll be ready.

But what if I embraced a little child-like excitement (after all, Jesus said, unless we have the faith of a child, we will not inherit the kingdom.) What if I took the joyful enthusiasm of a teen and combined it with the adult awareness that I have of the meaning of this day – that in Jesus divinity and humanity were united. Well, then maybe I’d be jumping for joy, not literally but figuratively. What if I could acknowledge all the pain, all the strain, all the angst of this life, and yet still get excited about the supreme gift of Christmas, Jesus Christ?

After all, this day is not so much about preparing our homes and our meals, but preparing our hearts for Christ. This day is not so much about unwrapping packages as it is about unwrapping our tightly bound wills to the Spirit of the Living God. This day is not so much about journeying to a particular place to spend the holiday with friends or family, as it is about being on a steady journey with Jesus, walking with our companions in this life toward the trusted place called Home that is peace and joy and love.

Today we read about the shared joy of Mary and Elizabeth, in their mutual expectancy. We read about the joy the angels brought to the shepherds and how the shepherds first reaction was more fearful than joyful.

Hear now the word of the Lord from Luke:

Luke 1:39-49

In those days Mary set out and went with haste

to a Judean town in the hill country,

40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.

41 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb.

And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry,

"Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.

43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?

44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting,

the child in my womb leaped for joy.

45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment

of what was spoken to her by the Lord.

46 And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord,

47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

Mary and Elizabeth, with their unusual pregnancies, Mary being young and not yet married, with child of the Holy Spirit. And Elizabeth, too old to have a baby and yet here they are sharing the joy and nervousness of their mutual conditions. John is doing somersaults in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary enters. Oh sure, infants in the womb do this all the time, but when ordinary things happen at significant moments in our lives we sometimes pay attention and mark the experience. When ordinary things happen to people who are listening for the voice of God in their lives, they interpret them in extraordinary ways, as messages from the Holy One who sustains them.

So it should be with us – that we look for the voice of God, speaking through the events of our lives. Cultivating a life sensitive to God’s work and God’s will, feeling God’s compassion for those who are suffering, praying and working to alleviate suffering or to live with people in their suffering is our call as followers of Jesus Christ. Mary and Elizabeth were attuned to the will of God such that they could give birth to Jesus our Lord and John the Baptist, the forerunner who prepared the way for Christ.

While there must have been hardships for them and misunderstandings in the public about their pregnancies, as well as the radical behavior of their prophetic sons, they stood the course, and guided their children to become the faith-filled people they became. Was there some darkness, some conflict, some fear, some sadness in the day when when Mary visited Elizabeth. Probably, but as the story goes, there was great joy. How will the story of your life be told? We all play a role in shaping the stories of our lives in ways that tell of the joy of God’s love. But I hope, as we have focused this Advent Season on light in the darkness, peace in the conflict, hope for the fear, and joy for the sadness of life, that you have prayerfully taken these to heart, worked at them by faithful devotion to the disciplines of the Christian life. We are called to actively and repetitively place our trust in the faithfulness of the God who came to be one with us in our darkness, conflict, fear, and sadness, who came to earth to usher in the light, peace, hope, and joy that is ours as children of a Loving God.

Now let’s read of the good news of great joy which the angel brought to the poor shepherds in the field. Note that the glory of the Lord is frightening. They are existing in the darkness, and suddenly this great light shines upon them. But into their fear, comes this amazing news of the birth of the long-awaited Messiah. This is news of great joy for a bunch of no-named poor shepherds in our second reading from Luke.

Luke 2:8-11

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields,

keeping watch over their flock by night.

9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them,

and the glory of the Lord shone around them,

and they were terrified.

10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid;

for see-- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:

11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior,

who is the Messiah, the Lord.

In every one of us is that desire to become a little more child-like at Christmas, to be surprised, to be jumping for joy at the thought of gifts, to set aside all overly- worrisome adult thoughts, to revel in being children of God, who know we are beloved by the One entered the playful joy of childhood himself. Think about it. Jesus cooed and squeaked like baby Wells Thomas. He danced with free abandonment like Tommy Zimmerman. He delighted in drawing pictures like Fields Thomas and Mimi Zimmerman. He smiled with his whole body like Chance Miller. These precious preschoolers of ours at Peace are gifts to remind us of the joy of Christmas. Think back to Funday Sunday and remember all the kids jumping for joy in the bouncy house and slide. Think of teens and the joyful abandonment of laughter. All these stages of life were part of Jesus’ life with us. And there is something of this joyful abandonment of worry and sadness which is at the heart of Christmas.

Because of the amazing gift of God with us, the incarnation, the infant Lord, we can all relax a little and experience the joy that rises higher than any struggle we might have, the compassion that is greater than any pain we might bear, the forgiveness that overcomes any sin we have committed.

There is a sense in which because God became a carefree cooing infant, we can re-enter childhood and know that we belong to the One who was a joyful child and glad to be our Savior, whose unity with us and with God is the substance of all true joy. It is this joy which lifts our spirits from the pain of life, allows us to still to laugh even when someone is dying, which allows us to make jokes about our mistakes, and to smile though we know someone else somewhere is crying or cold or lonely. The joy of Christmas lifts our spirits enough to give us bounce when we have hit rock bottom. If you have no spring in your step or want to remember those who are struggling come to our Longest Night Service at 7 pm.

Christmas joy is not a neglect of those who are suffering but a release from the heavy burden of pain and fear because of the angel’s message “I bring you good news of great joy” Christmas joy is not a neglect of responsible living, but a freedom from thinking it all depends on us because God came to earth in the rejoicing faith of a young woman, whose womb was home of a bouncing boy, a womb which gifted God with an amazing large leap into this life with us. The expression of joy is a leap, especially for those of us who are so serious. It is a leap of faith to be joyful, despite all the things about which we might moan or groan. I pray you will give yourself permission to jump from fear and sadness into hope and joy this Christmas, as an expression of your trust in God.