(published in the Abingdon Creative Preaching Annual 2014)
Isaiah 61.1-4, 8-11, Luke 1.47-55
I wonder how much Christmas Cheer Mary and Joseph had that first Advent. Mary, an unmarried teenager suddenly pregnant; Joseph a man who’ll be supporting a family before he even pays for a wedding, both of them in a small village where everyone will know their scandal before lunch, in a culture where Mary’s choice to say “Yes” to God could easily have gotten her killed. Yet in the midst of that, she sings! “My spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has done great things for me. He has fed the hungry and lifted up the lowly, and holy is his name.”
Or the prophet Isaiah, looking around at the ruined city his people were hoping to rebuild, trying to preach to people of fair-weather-faith, proclaiming that God has promised to plant them in fertile ground so they can grow into oaks of righteousness that glorify the Lord, offering a vision of justice and joy.
If anyone had reason to mask their fear with cheerfulness, it was these three, yet they sing joyfully instead! As Dr. Margaret Aymer, Old Testament Professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center, said, “Joy is an act of faithful subversion in a world that tells you to be scared and sad” (twitter conversation 12/10/11). I would add that it’s an act of faithful subversion in a world that tells us to hide our true selves behind the shallow sad-mad-glad. Joy is well beyond anything our culture, our possessions, our country, our media, or even our relationships can give us. Joy comes from one place: seeking God. And, in Isaiah it seems that God has even shown us the way to joy: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the broken hearted, to release the captives…to comfort the mourning…to rebuild, restore, renew…I the Lord love justice…”
Could it be that the way to know the joyful fruit of the Spirit is to practice? Not to gaze heavenward, anticipating something better; not to turn away from suffering because it’s depressing and ugly; but instead to get more grounded, reach to our roots, push down into the earth and let God grow in us like a seed…to live fully into our calling as anointed ones, the body of Christ, made to bring grace to a world in need, to shine light into a world of darkness.
Is it possible that the way to joy—to real Christmas Spirit—is through being more fully who God has called us to be, in the place God has called us? Is it possible that Christmas Joy comes from being the site of God’s incarnation? Maybe when we bear Christ into the world, the way Mary bore Christ in her body, when we don’t just speak good news but ARE good news, when we are creators of justice, then we will also find joy—joy beyond mere cheer, joy that is grounded and growing, joy that is subversive and holy.