Summary: The good news of great joy for all people is shocking news that we dare not get used to.

Humans are complex creatures, aren’t we? Those we love we tend to hurt. We love God and yet we sin against God. We have goals and aspirations that are noble and strong , and yet we get tripped up by our own weakness along the way to fulfilling our goals.

We can never seem to outrun the allure of the pleasures of sin for a season. Even those who are not accustomed to giving in to temptation, those who do not actively indulge in sin very much, know, if they’re honest, how much of an uphill battle it is to keep our noses clean, to keep from falling. Those who stop being honest about their frailties in this regard become “holier than thou”, which of course is a worse sin than most.

And yet today in our second celebration of Advent, we are encouraged to consider a big and bold and challenging and encouraging idea that’s wrapped up in a three letter word: JOY.

Joy is part of the festivities of the season for many. There are great and wonderful reasons, we are told, reasons that are both historical and current in our lives, for being jubilant and celebrating good things and expressing this loaded word: JOY.

But you know, it’s hard to string those letters together when, because of how very hard life is and how very real our present pain is, we are presently bleeding. Often we come to church bearing the wounds of our week. Let’s be honest.

But…here we are, back again at this word: JOY. It is the theme of our advent celebration today and it is a “Christmas” word. No matter how I feel or what I think when I see that word, it is a word to be reckoned with. And it’s up there on the screen. Staring at me.

Today we’re continuing also with our series on the Fruit of the Spirit, and as we’ve seen, the fruit of the Spirit that we are discussing today connects with this Advent theme. In particular, I’m going to ask Keitha to read an important Advent passage. Let us listen to the Word of God with fresh ears:

Luke 1:26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." 34 "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" 35 T he angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God." 38 "I am the Lord’s servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her. 39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.

This is a very comforting passage, I find. I also find it disturbing that this is a comforting passage, because however familiar it is it really proclaims something shocking. Very shocking.

Now most of us in this room believe in God. If you’re like me you were raised to not believe in God, only to discover along the way that you were raised with a delusion, a theory that could not be proven and which closes the door on the best explanation for the mysteries that characterize life. Mysteries like love.

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