Summary: After the angel announced to Mary that she was to give birth to Jesus, she was full of complete joy, anticipating God's new work in the world through Jesus. This is a joy we can experience as well as we continue to watch God's work unfold in the world.
Can you tell when someone is in a good mood? What’s the “give-away”? Maybe you see the person smiling, or perhaps they have a little extra “spring” in their step. I can tell when Ken is in a good mood because he starts singing; whatever is in his head is what comes out of his mouth. It doesn’t even matter if he doesn’t know the whole song, he’ll just sing the one or two lines he does know over and over and over again. It can verge on annoying, but it really never bothers me too much because I know he’s feeling good.
Certainly, we have our little behaviors that reflect our good moods. But what about when it’s more than just a good mood? What about those times when you receive what seems like the best news of your whole life? What causes you to toss aside all inhibitions and celebrate wildly? Though it far too often seems as if such moments are few and far between, we do all have occasional moments of pure joy in our lives; times when all social graces are tossed aside so that the moment can be fully enjoyed and completely celebrated.
Maybe it comes with the news that someone close to you who’d been very sick was getting better and would soon be home. Or perhaps you would rejoice over the news that the flood which had threatened your home was finally receding. Or maybe it is the news that all your money worries, or business worries, had been sorted out and you could relax. Perhaps it would be the telephone call to say that you had been promoted to the job you’d always longed for. Whatever the news may be, when we are on the receiving end of such announcements, we tend to do things we normally wouldn’t.
We might break out in a jig, click our heels, or dance round, and round, and round with a friend. Or perhaps we shout and throw a cap into the air. Or maybe we just collapse in total, utter surprise. We might pick up the phone to call everybody we can think of to share the news, or even to invite them to a big celebratory party. We might sing a song, perhaps even making one up that specifically expresses the joy we feel on this marvelous occasion. We might be so full of happiness that we clap our hands and stomp our feet in rhythm as we sing. That’s the kind of thing we do when we feel pure, complete, unadulterated happiness.
Now, with that picture in your mind, consider this passage we heard a few moments ago from Luke’s gospel. It is the story of Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth. Mary has just learned that she is pregnant with the child of God, and by way of confirmation, the angel has also shared with her that her long barren cousin, Elizabeth, is pregnant as well. So Mary sets out to confirm this news and to share her own good tidings. When Mary greets Elizabeth, there can be no question that these are two happy women. They are experiencing complete delight, and their responses reveal that. Elizabeth is so excited that the baby within her “leaps” with joy, we are told. And Mary breaks out into this spontaneous song, what we call “Mary’s Magnificat.” It’s a made-up song, but it’s the kind of spontaneous reaction that occurs in the most joyful moments of our lives. But as Mary sings, what she expresses is far more than just a passing happiness at the good news of a pregnancy. Instead, Mary is expressing some of the greatest hopes and dreams of her people, the Israelite people, which will now be fulfilled through the baby growing inside her. Can you imagine? Something that you have been waiting for and longing for your whole lifetime, and your ancestors before that, is about to happen! How can you help but be excited! And Mary was.
But this is more than just excitement; it’s more even than just simple happiness. Because happpiness is often fleeting. The healed relative returns home, life settles back into its usual routine and new challenges emerge. The flood waters recede only to be replaced by a burned-out engine in the car. We get a few months into that brand new dream job, only to discover that the new boss is a “slave-driver” and we have less and less time to spend with family. Just like that, the feelings of happiness that were once so prevalent are now gone completely. Probably more often than we would like to think, we are reminded that happiness can sometimes be empty and fleeting. But joy is something greater. Joy is more than just a good feeling, it's more lasting. Joy is the fulfillment of our greatest dreams, and a knowledge of peace that sustains us at all times and in every place; even in the midst of life’s ups and downs, joy is still present. I have heard it said that, "Happiness is an outside job, but joy is an inside job." And I think the reason that is the case is because real joy is only come through faith in God. Real joy is only possible because of God’s work in the world; which is precisely why when we encounter Mary and Elizabeth in this passage from Luke’s gospel, they are so completely joyful.