Luke 1: 26-45
What the world needs now is joy! There is power in joy. Power to overcome, power to see the Holy Spirit at work. The ancients who created the liturgical calendar knew it – for in the midst of the penitential season of advent, in the darkness of winter, there was added “Gaudete” Sunday! Gaudete is latin for “rejoice!” On this third Sunday of advent, we light the rose candle and rejoice at the coming of the Lord. We rejoice for Advent and Christmas is where the sublimely holy and the utterly common meet. It is where all of the authority and majesty and promise of our loving God enters in an unexpected way, into the daily routine of human life. Luke presents the events leading up to the birth of the Christ child in a celebratory and even joyous tone. And indeed there is much to be joyful about, when heaven and earth connect. We marvel at the events of the annunciation. “Greetings, favored one!” and the response of Mary, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.” We relish the words of the angel Gabriel, “nothing shall be impossible with God!” We rejoice with Mary and Elizabeth as they share this time of wonder and excitement.
There is a problem however. The problem comes when we look back longingly and regard this as an isolated time in history when the grace of God came down and touched the life of a young Jewish woman. When we believe that all of the joy and favor were doled out then and are no longer available now. When we believe that God is no longer active in our world today. Most of us would readily agree that God was actively involved in the lives of Mary and Joseph, and even Zechariah and Elizabeth, yet how many of us would truthfully say that we believe God to be an active character in the story of our lives? I am not saying we don’t believe in God, I am saying that we very often view God as fairly passive – in the background of our lives, just watching, waiting, being supportive. Remember the Better Midler song, “God is watching us, God is watching us, God is watching us…from a distance.” Kind of like that. When we forget that God is active in our lives we risk losing the power of joy that comes through a living and alive relationship with God. Of course, God watches. But God is also involved – God does all kinds of things — great and small, mighty and insubstantial, mundane and miraculous, God is constantly at work, constantly aware. More than that, God regularly uses people to point out and tell about what God is doing. And God still rejoices in entering our lives in unexpected ways.
Have any of you ever read the book by Barbara Robinson, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever?” I love this story because it is a reminder of God’s amazing sense of joy and wonder and the lengths to which he will go to draw us into his story of love for all humanity.
The book begins like this: “The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world. They lied and stole and smoked cigars (even the girls) and talked dirty and hit little kids and cussed their teachers and set fire to Fred Shoemaker’s old broken down tool house.” It goes on “we figured they (the Herdman siblings) were headed straight for hell, by way of the state penitentiary… until they got themselves mixed up with the church, and my mother, and our Christmas pageant.” You see, the six Herdman siblings showed up at the church because they heard there were free snacks and they wound up taking over the annual Christmas pageant all the while shocking the other children with their language and behavior. It seems as though the Christmas pageant is doomed. However, as God is prone to do, he uses these rough and tumble children who have never even heard the Christmas story, in a special way.
The night of the Christmas pageant, the author writes, it seems as though the Herdmans might not show up at all, yet there they were (late) Ralph and Imogene, who were playing Mary and Joseph, came through the door (for once not pushing each other out of the way). They just stood there for a minute as if they weren’t sure they were in the right place. “They looked like the people you see on the six o’clock news – refugees, sent to wait in some strange ugly place, with all their boxes and sacks around them.” “It suddenly occurred to me” the story continues, “that this was just the way it must have been for the real Holy Family, stuck away in a barn by people who didn’t much care what happened to them.” And maybe they were more like this Mary and Joseph (Imogene’s veil was cockeyed as usual, and Ralph’s hair stuck out all around his ears.). Imogene had the baby doll but she wasn’t carrying it the way she was supposed to, she had it slung up over her shoulder, and before she put it in the manger she thumped it twice on the back.” As if burping the baby Jesus. Our narrator ponders the possibility that baby Jesus could have had colic, since he was born as a real baby.
There is of course, more to the story – sister Gladys, who is the angel comes from behind the angel choir pushing people out of the way, stepping on toes and hollers out “Hey! Unto you a child is born!” and lo the shepherds tremble in fear, of Gladys mainly, but it looked good.” And then there were the Herdman boys who portrayed the three kings carrying in between them the food basket ham that had been given them by the church charitable works committee instead of the expected gold, frankincense and myrrh. But perhaps most unexpected of all came during the singing of “Silent Night.” As the choir sang “Son of God, love’s pure light,” Imogene Herdman was crying. In the candlelight her face was all shiny with tears. Awful old Imogene in her crookedy veil, crying and crying and crying.
“Well,” our young narrator says, “it was the best Christmas pageant we ever had.” Though no one could put their finger on exactly why. Sometimes that is how joy works, it can make no sense whatsoever, and yet there it is. There is power in joy and it can come in unexpected ways and through unexpected people! This is nowhere more evident than in the Christmas story itself
So going back to my earlier question: do you believe God to be an active character in the story of your life? Do we think God is done interrupting people’s lives to use them for the benefit of the world, or might we believe that God is still doing things just like this? Look around at the people sitting next to you in the pew, can you see them as favored by God and as ones through whom God plans to do marvelous things? Look at yourself even, can you see yourself as favored by God and as one through whom God plans to do marvelous things? While none of us will have the distinction that Mary did of carrying the Christ child, there are many other wonderful things that God wants to accomplish through us. Common and ordinary though we may be, can you hear the proclamation of God’s favor. Is it confusing, perplexing troubling to think that God has things to accomplish through you? It can be, but can you answer any way: “Here am I, a servant of the Lord?” Take just a moment now to contemplate that God is at work in you and through you. Imagine, if you can, one concrete place that you can make a difference — where God may be at work in you — between now and Christmas. And once you have had a chance to contemplate all this, I want to invite you into the joy of faithful response. The greatest blessings and joys are bound up in the fellowship God shares with us.
There is power in joy! Power to overcome. Power to see the Holy Spirit at work in you and in others, power to see a future where reason says there is none. Power to see that with God nothing shall be impossible.
Leave here this morning in the power of joy! Let joy live in your heart and share the joy of Christ with all you meet. Rejoice for those places and people through which the sublimely holy and the utterly common meet. Rejoice for the authority and majesty and promise of our loving God enters our lives in unexpected ways. As you go out into the wonder of God’s creations, share joy, peace, and hope with those you meet. Amen.