Summary: Joy is a gift from God, is never experienced without challenges, and is something we are called upon to share.
“An Impossible Joy”
Luke 1: 39 – 45
A few weeks ago I heard on the news that there were impossibly huge line-ups as the new Sony Play Station came into stores. Some people apparently waited in line for days, even missing work to do so. Can you imagine doing this for a video game? And of course, some stores had what seemed to be planned out of stock problems to increase expectation and word of mouth. But what were all those people looking for? What were they thinking this game would give them that they were willing to wait in expectation for all that time? Did they think that this game would bring them fulfillment? Happiness? Contentment? Joy?
This morning, as we anticipate tomorrow, as we wait in expectation for Christmas morning finally to be here, I want to talk about joy—about what for Mary and for Elizabeth must have seemed an impossible joy. Our story begins with two pregnant women who, really, cannot be pregnant. The babies in their wombs are not there naturally—this is God at work. This is the stuff of miracle. And miracles, when received with the openness of Mary and Elizabeth, are also the stuff of joy.
Joy is a gift of God
Mary travels to see Elizabeth once she learns that they are both pregnant. No doubt Mary feels that Elizabeth can relate to her situation—and she definitely needs the support! Perhaps this is part of the reason Gabriel told her about Elizabeth. Our text says “Mary set out and went with haste.” She didn’t want to waste any time.
And so she arrives at Elizabeth’s house, greets her, and, then, what happens? Our story tells us that when “Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb.” As Elizabeth tells Mary, “For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.” Elizabeth’s child, John, leaped for joy at Mary’s greeting—what one scholar calls “a miraculous expression of the emotion of the unborn child.” It was a joy given to Elizabeth.
And Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, receives prophetic inspiration: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” And the Spirit also appears to reveal to her that Mary is indeed, as she says, “the mother of my Lord.” She is humbled that Mary, her relative and the mother of her Lord, would visit her. Shouldn’t any of us feel humbled and joyful that the Lord would visit us also?
The joy begins here with two women in impossible circumstances—both of them are miraculously pregnant. One was barren and past child-bearing years; and like Sarah and Hannah in the OT God provides a child despite her age and physical condition. The child would be the last of the old covenant style prophets, heralding the fulfillment of God’s promise to send the Messiah. The other was a virgin and at the beginning of her child-bearing years; and yet God conceived in her a child without the help of a man. And the child would be the foundation of a new covenant, the Messiah that God had long ago promised.
All children are a gift, and there’s nothing quite like being at the birth of your child. Nothing quite prepares you. When a new child enters the world, it is cause for wonder and for joy. Many people call the birth of a new child a miracle—how infinitely more so here?
Both pregnancies were impossible. Both were miraculous. Both were part of God’s plan of salvation. And both brought—among many other emotions—joy to their recipients. God is making clear here that it is He that brings new things into the world—salvation is not the result of man’s effort, but of God’s hand reaching miraculously and mysteriously into our world.
The baby in Elizabeth’s womb “leaped for joy” when Mary greeted her. Something wondrous was at work. Miracles were in the air. God was moving. And through it all He was creating joy.
Our first point is, then, that joy is, ultimately, a gift of God. It is, according to Scripture, a fruit of the Spirit, something that God brings about in the lives of those who are open and available and obedience to Him. Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, was filled with joy. The child, John, was miraculously filled with joy. And Mary, if we were to keep reading, also rejoiced at what God was doing—“My spirit rejoices,” she says, “in God my Savior.” Rejoicing is simply our joy directed toward God in worship.
In the Gospel of John Jesus tells Nicodemus that a person must be born again or born from above, that they must be born of both water and Spirit. Images of birth surround the message of salvation—the births of John and Jesus and, eventually, the new birth of those who submit to Jesus and his message. Both tell us that something new is happening and to get in on it is to know joy, a joy that can only come from God Himself.