The Joy of Good News
Luke 1:39-55 and Isaiah 35:1-10
JOY IN OT
The prophet Isaiah proclaims to the exiled Israelites a day is coming when God will act and establish a great reversal of the current situation and bring restoration and renewal to God’s people. “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.”
A day when, “the eyes of the blind shall be opened…the lame shall leap like a deer.” A day when waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert, the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.” These words of scripture from Isaiah hopeful words of coming restoration would be passed down for generations. By the time of our gospel reading so many generations had passed since the days of Isaiah that it is possible the joy mentioned in the Isaiah text had become a forgot feeling generations later. But things are about to change.
In the passage right before our Gospel reading a very young teenager Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel. She is told she will have a baby son, and she will name him Jesus. Gabriel tells her that Jesus, “will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign in the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.
I can not imagine the emotions and feelings that Mary must have felt as she heard this news. Where the days that the prophet Isaiah proclaimed coming true? While we can only guess to how she felt, we do know her verbal response to this news, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
For an unwed virgin this was beyond a faithful response to such news. Did other thoughts and anxieties set in once the angel departed from her? Were there hidden anxieties and fears behind her words, was she scared of what was going to happen, what people will think of a pregnant unwed virgin? Our text today picks up after the angel departed her. Mary sets out and went with haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth who learned a few verses earlier in the chapter that even in her old age she also would have a son too.
READ TEXT—LUKE 1:39-55
Today I want to explore the theological significance of joy. Both readings today proclaim the feeling of overwhelming joy! Both Isaiah and those in the gospel of Luke for various reasons are experiencing joy because of God’s actions in the world.
JOY AND HAPPINESS
As we explore the theological meaning of joy, let us be sure to separate joy and happiness. Happiness is something that comes and goes, is something humans desire for themselves. Joy is something deeper and more meaningful. Our gospel reading today lifts up that God is our source of joy.
Both readings from the Old Testament and the Gospel remind us of an important theological claim when it comes to joy; just because we have joy does not make us exempt from the wilderness of suffering, illness, grief, and brokenness. This is where the difference between happiness and joy occur the most…in the face of hardship.
Happiness may fade when illness, grief, and brokenness surround it. Joy in Christ is what will help us through the wilderness of suffering, illness, grief, and brokenness.
Mary was someone who is surrounded by hardship yet joy fills her heart and she proclaims, “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.”
Mary is proclaiming that she has joy because God is bringing a great reversal of how the world exists. Mary proclaims joy because God’s mercy, love, and salvation has been revealed to the world through Christ and God’s loving act will change the status quo. With this action of mercy and love—God’s love will be revealed and will scatter the proud in the thoughts of their hearts and cause humility; God’s love will be mightier than the thrones and God’s love will lift up the lowly, the outsider, the downtrodden, grieve stricken, the outcast.
GRIEF IS PRESENT THIS TIME OF YEAR
This time of year when the presence of loved ones are absent and the day light is shorter and the nights are longer it can be hard to find happiness. Many feel like the lowly, the outsider, the downtrodden, and the grieve stricken. As we will remember later this week in our service of Remembrance and Grief, this time of year is extremely difficult time of year for many people who are struggling with many things in their life, whether it is loneliness or depression or grieving the death of loved ones.
CHRIST IS OUR SOURCE OF JOY
While it might be hard to find happiness in the things around us when life is difficult, as Christians we believe Christ is the source of our joy in good times and difficult times. Our joy comes from the good news of God’s love for us through Jesus Christ. Our joy comes from the hope that nothing, life or death, things present or things to come can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Our joy comes in the hope of that God’s love through Christ will endure all things. Our joy comes from the hope that there will be a time when Christ comes when he will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.”
JOY IS MEANT TO BE SHARED
In our Sunday school series this morning we explored the advent theme of waiting for Christ's coming with joy. Dr. McKim who wrote the curriculum lifted up this one point about joy that stood out to me, especially as we reflect on today’s gospel reading and the theological significance of joy. He believes, “Joy is meant to be shared.”
I have always been curious if Mary would have sung this song if she had not had this encounter with Elizabeth? The angel departs and the next verse say Mary set out and went with haste. Was Mary so excited that she forgot to sing her song of joy, or was there a delay in her joy because she was unsure of what was all going on? What we do know, is that when Mary arrives to visit her pregnant relative, the child inside Elizabeth leaps for joy. Unborn John the Baptist’s joy brings a realization of Joy to Elizabeth who then proclaims, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb…Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Then after this spirit filled exchange, Mary sings her song of joy.
Would have Mary gotten to her song of joy if Elizabeth would not have shared joy first? Would have Elizabeth not have shared her joy if her unborn son John did not share his joy in the womb? The expression of joy is a powerful means to proclaim the Good News. Three people have moments where they share joy, if one does not share the joy, it is possible the others miss out too.
BARTH: JOY AS GRATITUDE
As we share the joy of the good news with one another, that joy we feel and share with others is a form gratitude to God. In fact in his work Church Dogmatics Theologian Karl Barth proclaims that “joy is really the simplest form of gratitude.” As joy fills our hearts as we hear the Good News of God’s unconditional and everlasting love is made known through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection that feeling and expression of joy is simply a response to God’s love.
I believe the most common way we express and share joy in worship is in our music. Music can bring out lots of joy, even as other emotions and difficulties surround us.
Later today people from our church are invited to go caroling to other members homes. The goal is simple…to seek out people and share joy through music.
I remember growing up in the church and going caroling. I remember a feeling of joy as we sang the songs, but what I remember too was sharing and singing words of joy to people who have faced tough times. I remember the first time I ever visited someone who was so ill they could no longer get out of bed. I remember going to the house of a woman whose husband had died earlier that year. I remember visiting my preschool Sunday school teachers who first taught me the stories of Jesus and now were now struggling with assisted living. What I also remember was the joy on all their faces and on the faces of those caroling as we sang together Silent Night. Joyful words like, “Silent Night, holy night! Son of God, love’s pure light radiant beams from they holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth, Jesus Lord at thy birth.”
LET US REJOICE AND SING SONGS OF JOY THIS ADVENT SEASON
As we wait for Christ coming, may we find ourselves sharing together the joy of the Good News of Christ. Let us all rejoice and sing songs of joy as we wait for Christ’s coming for we know that our spreading of joy of the Good News will have a powerful impact on peoples lives and faith. May our gift of joy be ones that expresses gratitude to God for a love through Christ that abides with us no matter where we are in our life and our faith. May our hearts sing of the Joy God brings! Alleluia Amen!