When was the last time you leapt for joy? Can you even remember? Did any of you leap into church this morning? Skip down the aisle to your pew? Is anyone planning on leaping up to Holy Communion later? Are we too reserved to leap?
What you need to know is that leaping and springing tend to be a theme at Christmas. In the poem The Night Before Christmas, there’s a bit of springing/
Out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
In the familiar and repetitive, and some might call it annoying and obnoxious Twelve Days of Christmas there’s a bit of leaping by a few lords.
Twelve Drummers drumming, Eleven Pipers piping, AND ten Lords-a-leaping.
And from our text this morning we read that the baby in Elizabeth womb leaps for joy. Can you name your Top 10 experiences of leaping for joy?
Two unlikely women: Elizabeth, way past child bearing years, and Mary, an unwed teenager who had is now pregnant by the Holy Spirit. A generation apart, but inseparably connected by how each would play a role in God’s plan of salvation.
When Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, Elizabeth’s unborn baby innately recognizes Jesus from the womb. The unborn child doesn’t have the ability to communicate human language on an intellectual level, but can respond on a spiritual level. Psalm 42:7: “Deep calls unto deep…” Divine communication – Spirit to spirit. It was like Elizabeth was experiencing an internal dance party.
The text says that “Elizabeth exclaimed with a LOUD cry.” Like greeting a beloved whom you haven’t seen for a long time. I see Elizabeth embracing Mary, and almost shrieking in joy. The first sentence that Elizabeth utters is familiar to many, especially those who grew up Catholic: “Hail Mary/Ave Maria” prayer:
“Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus….
But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the baby in my womb leaped for joy.’”
Elizabeth offers extravagant welcome, when others learning of Mary’s situation would offer judgment. THESE are words of blessing. Out of this place of refuge and safety and understanding, Mary sings The Magnificat, a song of praise, and a cry for justice.
Mary, in all the uncertainty in her life…living in a violent, unjust culture, SINGS. She has confidence and faith in God who is greater than her present reality. God is filling her with love and fills her life with hope, peace and joy, even in the midst of a broken, violent, unjust world.
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for God has looked with favor on the lowliness of God’s servant. All generations will call me blessed.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.”
We are given an intimate personal account of two ordinary women confiding in one another, and, upon that sharing, breaking into joy at the realization of the incredible thing God has done. Kindred spirits – solidarity – providing strength for one another. Both are waiting with a sense of promise. There is strength in the shared waiting. As the two women come together to share their stories and explore their new realities, they found the trust and courage to respond. They celebrate the mystery of God’s activity in and through them.
If we want to empower others to sing praise and call out for justice, we can learn from them: 1) they respond to angel visitation;
2) they offer hospitality without judgment;
3) they do not hesitate to sing out in joy AND link their song to cries for justice.
There is a tension in the leaping for joy and the reality of a broken world. It’s easy to become cynical and lose heart, It’s at that point that we especially need to remember Mary’s song, and know that God is greater than the violence that is so evident in the world.
In all the chaos and confusion, in the midst of pain, violence and suffering in the world; in all the uncertain, fragile times in our lives; the song IS louder and stronger. God comes to us in Jesus, and shines the light of love upon us. Even in those dark times when we are hurting and hopeless and angry and afraid, when nothing makes sense, the song is still louder, and it is waiting to be sung.
We must keep singing. The confusion and chaos easily consume us. The uncertainty and anxiety, grief and pain can threaten to break our spirit and steal our joy. But the song within us, the song of hope and faith and confidence in God, the song of God’s love forever coming to life within and around us — that song is still stronger…and that is why we must keep singing it.
Despite her fears and the dangers she faced, Mary experienced joy. Joy is independent of our circumstances. Joy is a choice to look at present circumstances with eyes of faith, trusting God at work.
What causes you to recognize your blessedness and leap for joy? What is within you that leaps for joy right now? What dreams has God granted you that are seeking fulfillment?
Greet someone today in a way that might make their heart leap for joy. Greet someone the way my dog greets me at the door with wagging tail and grin from ear to ear, even though I’ve only been gone 30 minutes.
Life is unpredictable – very little we have control over and few things we can know for sure. Ultimately, God is Mystery, and we are invited to enter that Mystery. This is the heart of the Advent journey, the great Mystery being born among us anew each year.
In her poem, “Mysteries, Yes,” Mary Oliver says
Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous to be understood….
Let me keep my distance, always,
from those who think they have the answers.
Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment, and bow their heads.
Let’s embark on an Advent journey, keeping company with those who embrace the Mystery in great reverence and those who truly “see” and laugh with joy.