46 Mary said,
“With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
47 In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
48 He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.
Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
49 because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
50 He shows mercy to everyone,
from one generation to the next,
who honors him as God.
51 He has shown strength with his arm.
He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
52 He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty-handed.
54 He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
remembering his mercy,
55 just as he promised to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”
Thoughts on the passage:
Before getting into the passage I want to take a moment to observe the importance of the third Sunday in Advent. In traditional Advent wreathes there are three purple candles and one pink candle. The traditional words associated with these candles are hope, peace, joy, and love. Most people would assume that the Love Candle is pink. Most people would be wrong. Like Lent, Advent is traditionally meant to be a somber time as we prepare ourselves for Christmas. The third Sunday is pink because it is the Sunday of joy which is obviously not meant to be somber but instead happy. Today, in our culture, where Christmas music is playing in stores starting before Thanksgiving and people are celebrating all season long, it is hard to think of Advent as a somber time, but historically the third Sunday was meant to be a break for joy, rather than what it is now, one more upbeat day in a season of upbeat days.
What does it take to be happy? It can seem simple enough and yet when we think about our mood there are a lot of factors that go into it. Many of us are familiar with something call Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This is a form of depression that corresponds to the seasons. It usually sets in during the fall and winter as a result of the increased darkness because of shorter days. Just a week or so ago it was rainy and gloomy for several days in a row. Little things like that can effective our mood too. Your body posture and position have an effect as well. Think about how it feels to smile. The very act almost makes you happier. The same is true in other ways. A scowl, clenched teeth, slumped shoulders, all of these things effect our mood in subtle ways. This is before we get to the really big things that are happening in life that all have an impact.
What does this all mean? It means that the idea of being happy is not as simple as just hearing some good news or being told a good joke. Instead, it requires a convergences of a lot of circumstances to make a person happy. Joy comes, not just from something small but instead from the intersection of a great many events that all play a part in the emotion.
Consider this as a thought exercise, what if I were to tell you that you had just won a new vacuum cleaner. Would you be happy? Why or why not? First of all, do you need a vacuum cleaner or do you just have hard wood floors at home? If your husband does the cleaning then you might not know if you need a new vacuum or not and even if you did need one, the joy of getting it would be stronger for him than for you. Now, if I wanted to get you excited I might take some time to show you two things: first, just how dirty your house is and second, just how much more dirt this new vacuum picks up than whatever one you were using before. Now you might start to get a little more excited about this surprise gift. Our joy is often connected to having our needs met.
What do you think is likely to be more exciting: winning a free vacuum randomly for coming to church one Sunday, winning that same vacuum during a charity raffle where you bought a ticket, or saving up your spare change until you finally had enough money to buy that vacuum you have wanted ever since you learned just how dirty your carpet was? While it might be hard to imagine getting excited about a vacuum, the last one is likely to be the most exciting. This is because it involves some investment on your part. The time and energy that would go into saving and waiting for the new vacuum will add to the joy you experience when you are finally able to buy it. Our investment in something also effects the level of joy we feel.
So what do vacuums have to do with Christmas? Hopefully this example will help us understand the ways that joy is at work in the story. What we are reading this week is Mary’s response when she realizes she really is going to be the mother of Christ. Her reaction expresses a deep sense of joy (among other emotions). The source of that joy can be understood if we think back to the vacuum example. Mary is told that she will bear a son and that this son “will be great and will called the Son of the Most High” and “God will give him the throne of David.” She knows that the world is hurting, that her people are hurting, and now she is told her son will come to save them. This alone would be reason for joy, because God is going to meet the needs of Mary and the people. That joy however is deepened because Mary has been chosen to be involved in this salvific act. Not only is God going to do amazing things, but God is involving Mary in the process. Look over her reaction and hear that joy expressed at what she feels because God “has looked on favor the low status” of her.
Each week during Advent we are looking at the needs of the world. It is not hard to realize why we need joy right now. Climate change, wars, economic struggles, diseases, poverty, the list of pressing concerns at a global level is great. Our nation is divided and hurting and needs joy. Our own lives are filled with sorrow, stress, and loss. We all sin and fall short of what we aspire to be. Another year comes to a close and I suspect that we all have some broken promises that we made at the start of the year. We could all use some joy.
The joy that we are promised at Christmas comes in two parts. The first part is how God is coming to meet us in our needs. God will lift up the lowly, fill the hungry, and show mercy to all of us who need it. All of this is reason for joy. The greater joy however is that God is not doing this FOR us, but that God is doing this WITH us. We are invited to be a part of God’s saving work in the world. Our joy does not just come from what God is doing, but from the fact that God is involving us in the process.
The miracle of Christmas is not just that God is trying to save the world, it is that God believes that we can be a part of the process. Our joy comes not just from what God is doing but from the fact that God calls out to each of us and wants us to be involved. No matter how lowly we are, God is asking for us to play a part in things. Truly that is a reason for joy!
Questions to Ponder:
When were some times where you felt true joy and what was that like?
What is an area of your life where you need more joy?
What is a way that God has invited you to be a part of God’s work in the world?
God, be with us in this Advent season. May your spirit rest upon us that we might know your joy. You call out to each of us in different ways. You remind us each that we have a part to play in your work in the world. Help us to feel a sense of joy at the good news that comes with Christmas. Amen