Choose Joy

Good afternoon!  I hope everyone in the northeast is thawing out after the weekend snow!  We didn’t get that hard and were able to gather for church on Sunday.  Enjoy my sermon!

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Psalm 146:5-10
James 5:7-10
Luke 1:46b-55

Choose Joy

This morning we light the candle of joy on our Advent wreath.

I have to be honest – I wrestled with today’s sermon all week. As we approached the anniversary of the shooting in Sandy Hook I continued to ask myself and even to ask God, “How can I preach on joy right now?”

And yet, yesterday, as the day unfolded, I realized that I did not necessarily have to preach on joy – because joy was happening all around me.

Joy was happening as the ladies of the Flower Committee gathered together and adorned the sanctuary with poinsettias. Joy happened in their fellowship, in their laughter and in their care.

Joy was happening as over 30 people from our community honored the anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting by praying together, sitting in silence together and sharing peace with one another.
Joy was happening as a rooster wandered onto our property and poked his head into narthex when we opened the front doors of the church.

Joy was happening as members of the Missions Committee traveled to the McAuley Village in Providence and hosted a Christmas party for the moms who live there and their children. Joy happened as we all listened to Christmas music, shared a meal together, did crafts with the children and anxiously awaited the arrival of Santa Claus.

Joy was happening when Santa Claus walked in the room and the children erupted in cheers. Joy happened when the little girl who had crawled into my lap to show me the candy cane she had pulled off the tree lit up, shrieked with delight, bolted off my lap, ran across the room and jumped into Santa’s arms.

So often we focus on the bad things that happen in this world; we focus on things that are not necessarily going right, on things that are happening that we disagree with and on things that frustrate us. I often criticize the media, because it seems like they never report good news; they never highlight the good things that are happening in our communities and around the world. And while that may be true, I wonder if it what they report is simply a harsh reflection of the world that we are living in.

We live in a world that often chooses bad over good, negative over positive and sorrow over joy.

We do not live in a world that always chooses to see and find joy.

And yet ‘joy’ is something that we so desperately need.

In fact, ‘joy’ is also something that we so desperately want.

I was grateful yesterday to have been so boldly and so tangibly reminded of the joy in my life and in the life of this church community. Even amidst the busyness of the Advent season at church and the sorrow surrounding the anniversary of the shooting in Newtown, there was joy.

The gospel reading for this morning comes from the book of Luke. This passage of scripture is referred to as The Magnificat, which is a Latin term that means, “My soul magnifies.” The Magnificat is a song; a song of praise the Mary sings to God when she is pregnant with Jesus.

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

Mary sang these words after the Angel Gabriel appeared to her and told her that she was with child; she had gone to visit her relative Elizabeth, an older woman thought to be barren who was also pregnant.

Do you think Mary’s story is a story of joy? It’s hard not to. God entrusted her with something sacred and powerful. She carried a savior; she birthed Emmanuel into the world; peace was on earth in the form of a baby boy.

But I think that it is easy for us now – 2,000 years later – to look back at what was happening to Mary throughout this birth narrative and see joy in the story.

Joy to the world! The Lord has come. Let earth receive her king!

We sing those words now knowing how the story would eventually unfold. But remember that Mary was a very young girl, pregnant and not married. She had every reason to be afraid; she had every reason to feel anger and sorrow; and she had every reason to turn away from God.

And yet – even though she had every reason not to – Mary praised and sang to God with great joy.

‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.

What a strong testimony to the power of choosing joy.

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a conference called Love Wins: Promoting Love, Connection and Community For Every Child and Family. It was the inaugural event of the Ana Grace Project, an initiative honoring Ana Grace Márquez-Greene, a sweet girl who lost her life in Sandy Hook last year. Ana’s mother and father welcomed us as we gathered that morning. Ana’s mother Nelba reflected on their decision to put the event together and said, “We chose to remember her life twice as loudly as the circumstances surrounding her death.”

What a strong testimony to the power of choosing joy.

This Friday will mark the two-year anniversary of the death of my grandmother. She died on December 20 and my family chose to move ahead with funeral arrangements before Christmas. We held her memorial service on December 23rd and – surrounded by greens, trees, bows and poinsettias – sang Christmas carols together as we celebrated her life.

What a strong testimony to the power of choosing joy.
We choose joy – I really do believe that. We make choices and we can choose to see, to find and to create joy.

Do bad things happen in the world? Yes – and oftentimes we cannot control them. Actually – most of the time we cannot control them. But we can control how we react to those bad things. We can choose to react with sorrow or we can choose to react with joy.

Is this easy? Of course not! Society has programmed us to turn away from joy, not seek it out. But remember that we have such a powerful tool at our disposal, one that we are reminded of when we read this morning’s psalm.

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith for ever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

The Lord will reign for ever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!

This psalm is a powerful testimony to the way that we, as human beings, can create joy in our lives. People of God are a people of joy! If we put our trust in God, even in our darkest of moments, we can see, find and create joy in our lives. This is what Mary did as she carried and gave birth to Jesus and this is what we are called to do every single day of our lives.

Now I know that this is easier said than done. We are human beings, our emotions are real and joy is not something that can be turned on with a switch. So bear with me for one final thought.

In bible study on Tuesday morning, we read this morning’s passage from the book of James.

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient.

Notice a recurring word? We sure did.

While this letter was a specific kind of patience – being patient for the “coming of the Lord” – it reminds us of the sacredness of being patient.

It is not easy to be patient – not at home, not at work, not out in stores and not in church meetings. But God works through as we try to be patient and there is real grace in that.

And as we reflect on these words and also watch the flicker of three candles now burning in front of us, these words are a bold reminder that sometimes even joy takes patience.

But it is so, SO very important to have joy in your heart.

The holidays can be a very busy and hectic time. It is easy to get bogged down in lists and obligations.

So I would encourage you to – like Mary did so many years ago – give thanks to God. Trust in God. And choose joy. Be a living testament of the power of choosing joy.

Be blessed, people of joy, be blessed.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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