And Mary said: "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me--holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors." -Luke 1:46-55 (NIV) Read the whole chapter.
So this is the third Sunday of Advent. Just a little side note I guess is, some people have wondered why do we have a pink candle in the Advent wreath that we light on this Sunday. That pink candle is the candle of joy. It's the candle that we light that is associated with Mary and the joy that she experienced, particularly after her encounter and meeting with her cousin Elizabeth. In Latin, the old term for this Sunday is Gaudete Sunday. It means rejoice. So we rejoice. We celebrate the joy of this season. This joy is something that has some long deep roots to it.
I want to begin first by going back to the prophet Isaiah, to chapter 61, verses 1-4. The prophet says, "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to pray, proclaim the year of the Lord's favor the day of vengeance of God, to comfort all who mourn, and to provide for those who mourn in Zion, to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called Oaks of Righteousness, the planting of the Lord to display his glory. They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up from the former devastation; they shall repair the ruined city, the devastation of many generations."
Isaiah had this call of God upon his life. This call to do these things that he said. The Spirit of the Lord is upon him to preach Good News to the poor, to proclaim release to the captive, and at least the way I read it, that's a joy-filled message. That it is God who has called him and he has the opportunity to bring this joy to others. It wasn't going to be an easy thing. It was going to be very challenging, very difficult. Yet for Isaiah, he's calling a people who had been in exile, who are now returning from exile almost 550 years before the birth of Jesus, back to Jerusalem, back to that Holy city, back to rebuild, regather, and recall those people together.
It's interesting that Isaiah 61 is the text that Jesus reads in Nazareth as an adult when he begins his public ministry. It says that he stood up in the synagogue, in Luke 4, and unrolls the scroll from Isaiah and reads these words, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring Good News to the poor, release to the captive, and sight to the blind." Jesus recalled that passage that was spoken many centuries before his birth and said, 'The spirit of the Lord is upon me.' In many ways, it's in this same sense that Mary sees herself as a servant of God. We'll be talking more about Mary next week and particularly the annunciation and the message that the angel gives to her. But what we're looking at this morning is the reaction that she has when it begins to sink in.
Mary being pregnant and unwed, in that day and age, probably was not something to be joyful about. In that day and age, for many women, their identity and their fulfillment came in their ability to bear children. But there was a time and a place for that and outside of a marriage was not the time nor the place. And yet, God had asked this of Mary. To bear his child. Mary goes off to see her cousin, who's elderly, thought to be barren and now pregnant. When Elizabeth greets her, she gushes over her and says, 'You are blessed.' And Mary, Mary begins to get a glimpse of what this blessedness means. I'm sure there were many things that went through her head, 'What will Joseph think? What will my family think? How will I, how will this child, be accepted by the community?'
And yet, this song burst forth out of her that doesn't worry about those things. This song that bursts out of her almost seems to latch onto and grab hold of this larger dream. This larger dream, this unfolding of God's story, this purpose that doesn't just affect Mary and those people that are closest to her, but the story that's for all the world. You see Mary got the pre-released version. Mary got the version that told her the end of the story before they got there. On Christmas Eve, we'll hear that Christmas story of shepherds and angels and that message that the angels give of, 'We bring you good news of great joy, for all of the people.' There it is, that word, joy, again. Joy for all the people. Mary knew it. Mary knew it when she spoke these words, 'My soul gives glory to God, magnifies God for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.' Like Isaiah, in that message that he proclaimed. Like those words that Jesus reads when he begins his ministry. Mary too sees herself as a servant, an unlikely, an unexpected, and an unworthy one. And yet, God has declared that she is favored. That she is worthy. And she will be the one through whom the world will forever be changed.
So we pray that we too can embrace and receive the joy of this season. That we might know what it means to be a part of this work that God is doing. To bring hope and joy and peace to this world. It's something that's always needed. And yet we know this year, that need seems all the greater. The need for hope. The need for something to look forward to. The need to experience and feel some joy. Mary's joy didn't just spring from the child that she was carrying. Mary's joy came from the fact that she knew that God was going to be doing good things for people who needed it. To bring hope and comfort, to attend to the needs of those who were hungry and downtrodden. We look around and we see that need still in the world around us. We look around and see that there are many of those things that are yet to be realized. But that's the thing about a dream. A dream holds on to the fact that this can be a possibility. That this can happen. Still, Mary believed that God would do things that had not yet been seen. Some of them unfolded. Some of them continue to unfold.
And so, like Mary, we are called to dream. And in doing so, plant seeds of joy. The thing about planting seeds is it is an act of faith. We don't know necessarily what can be, what can, or will become of them. To plant a seed is the hope that something good can and will come of it. To plant a seed is to trust that God will work in and through this. So the seeds of joy we plant this season, are those dreams of a world set right. Those dreams of the hungry being fed. Those dreams of children being cared for. The homeless finding shelter. The lonely being comforted. The sick being healed. We pray that in this season, these dreams can and will be something that springs forth in joy.
There's an article that I ran across in my preparation written by a woman named Emily Heath. And she in this article said, 'Here's the thing, I think it's easy to be joyless in this world. It's simple. It doesn't take much effort. You can put others down. You can dwell in hopelessness. You can even lob negative comments on the internet from the comfort of your own home. The best part is that if you lack joy, you don't even have to do anything constructive. You can just dwell in it. But it's a whole lot harder to rejoice. Why? Because joy is hard.' Now that may sound like an oxymoron. Joy is joy. Shouldn't joy be easy? She says, 'I don't think so.' Because I think joy is something deeper than that. But that also means that it's rooted. It's the thing that remains in you even when everything else around you is crumbling. Why was Mary able to have joy and to sing this song of praise about this child that could have cost her her life, this child that could have resulted in her marriage to Joseph being called off? Because Mary's joy was grounded. It was rooted in her faith and belief in the goodness of God. It was because of God working in and through Mary that she was blessed. And because of her faithfulness, this whole world has been blessed. We give thanks for the example and the willingness of Mary to be God's servant, for her joy, even in the midst of those difficulties. May we learn from that example. But even as we experience the challenges and hardships of this season ourselves: our joy, our true joy is rooted in the one who sent his only son that we might live and have the abundance of this joy.