“Third Sunday of Advent”: Luke 1:46-55

Rev. Dr. Jan Gregory-Charpentier
Kingston Congregational Church
Dec. 13, 2020
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126
Luke 1:46-55

Songs of Joy

On the third Sunday of Advent, we light a candle named Joy. And our
Advent scriptures are full of joy. Isaiah reminds us that God’s Anointed One
comes to us bringing good news, glad tidings and “the oil of gladness instead of
mourning.” The psalmist remembers for us the joy of God’s saving grace: “When
the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our
mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.” Mary’s joyous
song, the Magnificat, pronounces a world-shifting joy. Perhaps this year, more
than most, we need to remember joy; we need to be reminded that the joy of
the Lord is our strength.

But joy, such as Isaiah foretold or Mary sang, is so much more than holiday
cheer and season’s greetings. The joy they speak of is transformative: joy that
changes those who possess it and perhaps even changes the world. Isaiah
foretells jubilee, the year of the Lord’s favor, when wrongs are righted, and debts
are cancelled, and those in bondage are set free. This isn’t the joy of the
familiar, the known, the comfortable; this is the joy of transformation, wrongs
being righted, burdens lifted, freedom restored. Those who receive this good
news, who take this joy to heart, will be called oaks of righteousness, showing
forth the glory of God and rebuilding the world around them. This is the joy we
invoke in Advent. Joy to the world that renewal and redemption are possible;
that there really is an answer to the oppression of the world; that true healing
and comfort are available for our broken bodies and hearts; that a world held
captive to sin and selfishness might really be free at last, free at last, thank God,
almighty free at last. The gifts offered by God’s messiah are not gadgets and
gizmos, but comfort and joy, good news and a promise of the world restored.
And that is the source of our joy. The apostle Paul famously encouraged
his churches to “rejoice always…” He wrote those words to the Thessalonians
and the Philippians, churches that were struggling to survive, struggling to keep
the faith, struggling with doubt and questions in light of the suffering they saw
around them and experienced in their own bodies. We “rejoice always” not
because life is easy and we haven’t a care in the world; but because the One
who calls us is faithful, will not forget nor forsake us, will work in us and in our
world the ways of salvation. The joy we harbor goes much deeper than simple
happiness. Happiness will come and go, and I wish you much of it. But more
than happiness I wish you joy. Because joy, a fruit of the Spirit within us, cannot
be taken away. And joy, Isaiah and Mary knew, is powerful stuff. Joy refuses to
be cowed by circumstance. Joy puts up fierce resistance in face of persecution.
Joy is rooted in the deep soil of God’s heart and when our roots are grounded in
that rich stuff, the strongest wind, the most violent storm might shake but cannot
move us. Jesus said to his disciples, “These things I have spoken to you that my
joy might be in you and your joy might be full” (John 15:11).

Yvonne Dilling, a church worker from Indiana, who spent time in
Salvadoran refugee camps in Honduras during the time of much violence and
heartache in El Salvador, tells the story of one group of Salvadorans that fled
from their village and across the Lempa River to Honduras, while helicopters
strafed the shores. People died in the crossing. But when the refugees reached
Honduras and set up camp, their first action was to form three committees: a
construction committee, an education committee, and EL COMITE DE ALEGRIA,
“the committee of joy.” Celebration was as basic to the life of the refugees as
digging latrines and teaching their children to read. Even in exile, they
remembered to build and plant and dance.
Joyce Holladay, “A Joyful Noise” Sojourners
Earlier in the COVID pandemic, in the spring, when many countries,
especially in Europe, were experiencing high rates of infection and going into
lockdown, screens gave us glimpses of neighbors in high rises singing opera out
their windows in Italy or performing violin concerts in Spain, while listeners leaned
over their railings or couples danced on their balconies, Here and now, even as
the weather becomes less amendable to outdoor festivities, we are still finding
ways to create and celebrate joy: Zoom parties, fire pit gatherings, virtual choirs,
cookies baked for hard-working, non-profit heroes and pizza box Advent kits
delivered to doorsteps. Was there ever a year in your life that Christmas cards
felt more treasured or needed? The Christmas cards I’m sending this year have
one word on the front, and that word is “joy” and in the circle of the ”O” is a
manger. Come, Christmas Eve, the story we’re telling, the story we’re building up
to week by week in Advent, will break out into full-on joy: the angels will sing of
“joy to all people;” the shepherds will rejoice and praise God for all they had
seen and heard, and we’ll sing “Joy to the World the Lord is come.” But even
before we get there, even now, in the midst of this purple season, in the midst of
a purple world, we claim joy. Music, art, friendship, poetry, nature, laughter,
beauty, God with us: these gifts are not perishable, are not restricted, are not
diminished by pandemic; changed, maybe, but not destroyed. These gifts light
a candle in us and ignite joy. Not because life is easy or unacquainted with
grief, but because all the grief we know, all the grief we’ve lived through, all the
grief we’ve survived has not extinguished our joy. Like the story of Hannukah that
our Jewish neighbors are remembering this week, we celebrate a light that
continues to burn even in the darkest times.

Interesting that no language has as many words for joy and rejoicing as
does Hebrew. “In the Old Testament, thirteen Hebrew roots, found in
twenty-seven different words, are used for some aspect of joy or joyful
participation in religious worship…In contrast to the rituals of other faiths of the
[Ancient Near] East, Israelite worship was essentially a joyous proclamation and
celebration. The good Israelite regarded the act of thanking God as the
supreme joy of [their] life.” Even as a community and people well-acquainted
with suffering and grief they never forgot that God is the source of joy. The
psalmist says, ‘Thou dost show me the path of life; in thy presence there is fullness
of joy, in thy right hand are pleasures forevermore.’ (Psalm 16:11)”
The joy that Isaiah announced, that Mary sang, is a profound joy that
defies circumstance, because it is not beholden to circumstance. It is the joy of
Emmanuel, the good news of God-with-us, not just brightening a season, but
King Duncan, “Be Joyful” esermons.com
changing our lives and our world forever. It is the joy of God’s Anointed One
who comes “to preach good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to
proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord”(Luke 4:18). Weeping may last for a
nighttime, but joy comes in morning. So, let us rejoice. Rejoice always. The joy of
the Lord is our strength. Jesus intends for us fullness of joy. So, go dance on your
balcony, read bedtime stories to your grandkids over Zoom, send Christmas
cards celebrating friendship, bake cookies, light candles, and stubbornly,
faithfully, defiantly claim joy. That joy, Mary tells, can turn the world upside down.

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