I had so much fun with the kids during the children’s sermon today! We were lighting the candle of “joy” on our Advent Wreath – so I asked them about the things that make them “jump for joy”. And then we literally jumped for joy! We jumped up and down over and over and over again! It was so.much.fun.
All of the candles stayed put. I was slightly concerned.
Here’s today’s sermon!
Consumer Reports recently polled Americans to find out what they dread most about the holiday season. They reported on the top 11 responses and I thought I would share them with you all this morning. To be quite honest, while I might not have named them all myself, I actually understand most of them. Let’s review, shall we?
The number one response was – and this did not come as much of a surprise – crowds and long lines. Okay, I can understand that. The stores get hectic and stressful.
Number two: Gaining weight. Understandable, but the food is just so good and those New Year’s resolutions are right around the corner!
Number three: Getting into debt. This one is also understandable, especially given this economic climate and the advertising drones that make you believe you must always have more.
Number four: Gift shopping. I am actually with people on this one. I don’t like the stress around finding a certain number of the “perfect” gifts. In fact I often wonder if gold, frankincense and myrrh were the “must haves” that year or the Wise Men just happened to get a good deal on them. We’ll never know.
Number five: Traveling. Oh boy – can I add, “trying to split time between every part of the family” as a sub-category to that one? It’s impossible!
Number six: Seeing certain relatives. That one is actually kind of funny, but I think I will leave it alone.
Number seven: Seasonal music. Okay, now what is wrong with Christmas music? Okay, okay, maybe it’s a little over the top. I would like to hereby apologize to anyone has been subjected to my nonstop Christmas music since Thanksgiving. It will stop in January.
Number eight: Disappointing gifts. I laugh at this one only because of that Ebay commercial where the family is singing “The 12 Days of Christmas” and the daughter hijacks “five golden rings”. So instead of singing, “five golden rings,” she sings, “Five new tops … I want to be very specific about this because last year I got some gifts that I wasn’t exactly feeling … especially from you Uncle Dale, were those acid washed jeans? I just hope you all stuck to my list this year … a new digital camera or a new suede shoulder bag would be really ideal. Sorry to be so frank I just don’t need another needle point throw pillow Aunt Carla …” At which point Aunt Carla threw the needlepoint that she was working on to the side, stormed off and the girl’s dad tried to keep going with “four calling birds”.
Number nine: (Boy my commentary on this list is turning out to be as long as “The 12 Days of Christmas”!) Having to attend holiday parties or events. Okay, I do get that – this time of year gets a little bit crazy and it is hard to keep track of everything.
Number 11 (we’ll go back to number 10): Holiday tipping. Necessary, but still difficult when you are already stretched financially.
And here we go – the number 10 thing that Americans hate most this time of year: Having to be nice.
Isn’t that awful? It is Christmas and we are celebrating the birth of Jesus, the answer to our cries for Emmanuel; there are beautiful twinkly lights everywhere that light up those dark winter nights; we are eating the most delicious and decadent foods; holiday gatherings bring long-lost friends and families together; many of us are anticipating a few days off from work and school – and yet one of the things that people dread the most about this time of year is having to be nice to those around them in the midst of all of it.
I think there is something wrong with that.
That being said – I think there is also a lot of truth to it.
As a society right now, we are stretched too thin. If you look at the list of things that people are dreading, you can see that people are feeling stretched with their time, with their resources, with their money, with their sanity, with their joy.
And I wonder if one of the reasons that people hate having to be nice this time of year is because they feel so stretched by everything else. I think that – with everything else that is going on – they just simply do not have the energy.
Today, we light the candle of joy on our Advent Wreath. I wonder if – with that candle – we can’t bring back some of the joy that is lost this time of year.
Both of the scriptures that we read this morning talk about rejoicing in the Lord, about rejoicing the presence of the Lord in our lives, about feeling joy in our hearts because we know God is with us. “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,” this morning’s Psalm reads, “we were like those who dream.” “Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.”
What has the Lord done for us? What great things has the Lord done in our lives, in our community, right here at this church? What has the Lord done for us this year? What has the Lord done for us during this Advent season? What gives light to our candle of joy this morning? Why are we jumping for joy this morning? How can we start to grow the list of things that we love during this holiday season?
Our Gospel lesson this morning comes to us from the Gospel according to Luke. It is the Magnificat, or Mary’s Song of Praise. The word, “magnificat” is Latin word; it means, “magnifies”. “My soul magnifies the Lord,” Mary said. “And my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.”
Let’s put this scripture into a little bit of context: The Magnificat starts in chapter 1, verse 46. Earlier on in that chapter, in the 26th verse, the Angel Gabriel was sent to Nazareth and appeared to Mary. He said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary … you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.” Mary asked how this would be possible because she was a virgin and Gabriel told her that the Holy Spirit would descend on her and she would bear a son, the Son of God. Mary said, “Let it be with me, according to your word.” Mary then went to visit Elizabeth and – both with child – they were filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed the goodness that was to come.
And that is when the Magnificat starts.
Mary was called to do something extremely powerful; well beyond the realm of what she understood as a young girl. She was scared; she expressed doubt to the Angel Gabriel when he told her what was going to happen in her life. She was a pregnant and unwed woman in a time and society where that was not okay. She likely knew that the journey to give birth to her son would be long. She was stretched thin, just like we are today. And yet, she glorified God. “My soul magnifies the Lord,” she said. “And my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.”
Even amidst the societal stress and the physical pain and the suffering that she may have endured during her pregnancy, Mary still praised God. To this day I still think Mary sets one of the strongest examples of unwavering faith.
Today we light the candle of joy on our Advent Wreath. And that candle is pink, which is different from the other three blue candles. The pink represents a couple of different things: Years ago, Advent was much more of a reflective and penitentiary time. And the pink candle was used as a visual opportunity to break free from your penance, at least for one week, and to experience and express the joy that this season can bring. The pink also reminds us of the color of the rose that blooms in the middle of the winter; it gives us hope that even in the darkest, coldest and dreariest of seasons, we can still find life.
And it gives us hope today that even in the midst of the stress of this season, we can still find joy.
Mary found joy by praising God. That was her starting point.
I wonder what would happen if we praised God and used that as our starting point to create an agent of joy in our lives. I wonder what would happen if we allowed ourselves to feel the stress of the gift giving and the money spending and the hectic calendars and the traveling and praised God anyway. I wonder if we would be transformed if we set our priorities to first and foremost praise God. I wonder if we would then feel more joy in our hearts. I wonder if we praised God if the other stuff wouldn’t be so bad.
I think our list of ‘holiday dreads’ might look a little bit different.
This morning I invite you to think about “Today’s Magnificat”. How can you praise God, how can your soul magnify the Lord right now, in this lifetime?
And how will that fill you with joy for the rest of the holiday season? How will that transform your life?
“My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.” Thanks be to God!