Summary: The premise of this sermon is that even in the midst of life’s sorrow, there is a depth of joy that abides within us.
Advent III – Joy Luke 2:26-55
In the wonderfully reflective book entitled, The Prophet, one can contemplate these words:
The woman questioned the one she called Prophet of God, saying:
“Speak to us now of Joy and Sorrow”. And he answered:
The same well from which you laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed out with knives? When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find that it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful, look again into your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
I want to understand the inseparable relationship between joy and sorrow. I need to understand. In my own moments of despair, I need to understand. How can it be? That in dying we a born to eternal life. . . that my deepest sorrow can be the source of my most profound joy.
The words speak a paradox difficult to grasp. Yes, Eternal life does follow physical death -- that is a statement of faith. But is there even more? Perhaps the paradoxical statement about life and death -- and about joy and sorrow -- whispers to us a secret: that each time even a part of us dies, we experience -- in some sense -- a resurrection, a deepening of spiritual sensitivity that is eternal. And that every time we experience a devastating sorrow, joy may also be present in some inexplicable way.
For some people, sorrow and pain come much too early in life. You may have learned sadness, as I did, at a very young age. By the time I was 8 years old, I had found a place to deposit my fears.
While my Greek School classmates played outside at recess, I would sneak into the church. I would kneel down -- always before the icon of Michael the Archangel, because my grandmother said he had saved my baby brother’s life -- and in the safety of the candlelight, I prayed to a God that I hoped would hear me. Perhaps I was too young to know how to pray . . . far too young to know very much about God and archangels and spiritual kinds of things. But I do know that I was overcome by a kind of innocent faith that still believed in miracles.
There in the quiet stillness, a little girl too young to know very much at all was graced with the intuitive sensitivity to the work of God’s spirit in life. And that’s where I first happened upon the secret of finding joy in the midst of sadness.
When I remember how young I was when I first experienced a sense of God, I also remember how young Mary was when the angel appeared to her. Mary seemed too young to know very much about God and angels and spiritual kinds of things. Even so, right there before her stood an angel with the astonishing announcement: Do not be afraid, Mary you have found favor with God. You will give birth to a son. He will be called the son of the Most High.
How can this be? I am a virgin.
As if what the angel had told the young girl was not enough, there was more: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. The holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.
Mary found herself immersed in turmoil. She was only 13 or 14 years old, and what happened to her would have bewildered a much older woman. She was greatly troubled by the Angel’s visit. But her response to the angel was the only answer that could have so radically and completely changed the course of all humankind.
Mary’s response also changed her own life -- radically and completely.
What did it mean that the Holy Spirit would come upon her? How could one be overshadowed by the power of the Most High? She must have been confused, afraid. She must have needed someone to talk to. She left town as fast as she could to visit her cousin Elizabeth.
And then, feeling what must have been great fear and insecurity, Mary sang that song of joy that has touched our hearts every year for almost 2000 Christmases . . . the song that is in every Christmas cantata ever written. My soul magnifies the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my Savior . . .