Those Who Dream…Sow Joy
Luke 1: 26-56
December 17, 2023
Today is the third week in our series Those Who Dream as we look at the dreams God has for us, and for our world. Today’s dream is for joy. And we’ll see what that means in the story of Mary’s calling.
It’s a long scripture this morning, so let’s get right into it.
26 In the sixth month
Of the pregnancy just described by Luke, which will bring John the Baptist to be, and make parents out of the aged Zechariah and Elizabeth.
the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,
Nazareth was not a vacation destination. It wasn’t even a county seat. I’m sure that the people who were from Nazareth took pride in their hometown, but that’s always the case isn’t it? The fewer places you’ve been, the greater the only town you’ve ever lived in must be. So what does an actual angel think about it? Or maybe every town is pretty disappointing to a being who just come from heaven. Gabriel came…
27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’
Now, this word for "favored one" is the word for grace. It can equally be translated, "Greetings graced one...!"Mary's suddenly right in the middle of this amazing story of God's grace. But here's the thing - it's not really all about Mary. If you dig into the text, there's no clue why she's the chosen one. I mean, what's so special about Mary? Luke doesn't give us much. She's a virgin, engaged to Joseph, who's from the house of David. That's about it. Morally or character-wise, she's just like anyone else, like any of us really. There's no big spiel about her being super virtuous or especially worthy, nothing about her being the perfect candidate for faithfulness. Nothing that screams, 'Ah, that's why God picked her.' It's just that God did.
And that's kind of the whole point here. God chooses to do things simply because of God's own grace. It's all about God's grace stepping into human life. It's not about ticking boxes or earning it; it's about God deciding to make something incredible happen.
29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Have you ever found yourself waiting for that feeling of joy to kick in, but it just doesn't seem to come? It's like you know there's something good happening, or about to happen, but you can't quite get into the spirit of it. It's a bit like when you're gearing up for a celebration, maybe something you've been looking forward to, but when it arrives, you're just not feeling it.
It reminds me, in a way, of how even in the best moments, we can feel a bit perplexed or overwhelmed. I think about Mary's story, sure, but really, it's a common thing we all go through. She had an angelic visit and a message of joy, yet she felt perplexed. And here we are, with our everyday lives, facing moments that are supposed to be joyful, but sometimes, all we feel is a mix of confusion and anticipation.
Think about the holiday season, for instance. It's supposed to be the happiest time of the year, right? But how often do we find ourselves just going through the motions, not fully feeling that holiday cheer? It's like there's this pressure to be over-the-top happy, but inside, we're just not there yet. And that's totally okay.
It's important to remember that joy isn't always this big, overwhelming feeling that hits you like a wave. Sometimes, it's a slow burn. It grows over time, emerging from the little things, the quiet moments. So if you're not bursting with joy right away, give it time. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you're feeling. Joy, real joy, isn't something you can force or schedule. It comes in its own time, often when you least expect it.
So, next time you're supposed to be feeling joyful but just aren't quite there, don't be hard on yourself. We all experience it. Joy has its own timing, and it's different for everyone. Just like Mary eventually embraced her role in a pivotal moment, we'll find our way to joy in our moments, big and small."
30 The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ 34 Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’
35 The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.’
"So, have you ever thought about the phrase 'Nothing will be impossible with God' that the angel said to Mary? It's like a theme that runs through the whole Bible, popping up in the most unexpected places. You've got these stories, right, of Abraham and Sarah, Hannah and Elkanah, Zechariah and Elizabeth. All these couples had pretty much given up hope of having kids. It was like the odds were totally against them. But then, boom, God steps in, and things that seemed totally out of the question happen.
Now, when it comes to Mary, it's a whole different ball game. We're not just talking unlikely here; we're in the realm of the impossible. I mean, she's a virgin, so having a baby? That's not just unexpected; it's unheard of. It's like something out of a sci-fi movie, but here it is in the Bible. And Mary, she's just as baffled as we would be. She's like, 'How on earth can this happen?' And the answer she gets? It's like a gentle nudge reminding us that we're dealing with God here, and the usual rules just don't apply.
But here's the really cool part. This whole miraculous birth thing with Mary, it's just the start of a whole series of mind-blowing events. Luke's Gospel is full of them - Jesus healing people, bringing folks back from the dead, and then, the biggest shocker of them all, he comes back to life himself and heads off to heaven. It's like a chain reaction of impossibilities.
And Luke doesn't stop there. He goes on to show how that same spirit that made the whole Jesus-being-born thing happen does something just as incredible with believers. It turns them into, like, spiritual siblings of Jesus. They become carriers of God's presence, just like Mary.
So, the big takeaway? When we hear about these things, it's not about figuring out the science behind it. It's not a biology lesson. We're in the realm of theology, talking about God stuff. It's about opening our minds to the idea that with God, the impossible becomes possible. It's a reminder that when we try to box in God with our human logic, we're totally missing the point. It's about stepping into this vast, amazing narrative of God doing things beyond our wildest dreams.
For God, nothing is impossible. We must confess that daily, not simply at Christmas, not simply at Easter, but on every occasion of impossibility you and I encounter in life.
38 Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.
Let’s take some time with Mary’s words here. Because we tend to jump to her words, “Let it be” maybe because there’s a great song about that. But before she says that, she says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.” That word for servant is the word for slave.
She says, 'I am the Lord's slave.' That's pretty intense, right? But it's like she's saying, 'This is happening, and it's not really up to me.' It's not like she had a bunch of options or a say in the matter. God decided, and that was that. It makes you wonder, when God's grace comes into our lives, is it really something we can opt in or out of?
Think about it. When God's grace sweeps into our life, it's kind of like being caught up in something way bigger than ourselves. It's like we're part of this grand plan, and even though it feels overwhelming, there's this strange sense of freedom in it. Like, 'Okay, God's got this, so I can just go with it.'
But it's not just about making stuff happen; it's about God giving a part of himself to us, choosing us, each and every one of us.
So, when we're talking about God's grace, we're really talking about being part of something huge, something that's been unfolding since the beginning of time. And just like Mary, we're wrapped up in it, in this perfect freedom that comes from being totally in God's hands.
Still she does make this powerful choice. She says, 'Let it be with me according to your word.' It's like she's giving her consent, her 'yes' to this whole wild plan. It's not just a passive acceptance; it's an active agreement.
It's kind of like when something big and unexpected lands in our lap. We might feel like we don't have much choice in the matter, like we're just being swept along by life's current. But then, there's this moment, you know? A moment where we can step up and say, 'Alright, I'm in. Let's do this.' It's not about resigning ourselves to fate; it's about embracing the path laid out for us, even if it's daunting.
That’s where we start to find true joy. It’s like sowing seeds. You know, when you plant a seed, you don't get the flower or the fruit immediately. It takes time, care, and a bit of faith. The joy in our lives is a lot like that. When we choose to embrace the journey ahead of us, even the parts that seem overwhelming, we're essentially planting seeds of joy.
It's not about instant gratification or immediate happiness. Just like Mary, who said 'yes' to a path filled with unknowns, we might not feel the joy right away. We're stepping into something bigger, and it might feel a bit scary or uncertain at first. But every step we take on that path, every challenge we face and overcome, is like watering and nurturing those seeds.
Over time, these seeds start to sprout and grow. The joy that comes from this process is deep and enduring. It's the joy of seeing how far we've come, of realizing our own resilience, and of knowing that we're actively participating in our own life story. It's a joy that's earned, not given, and it's all the more precious because of it, especially when it’s shared with others.
That’s what Mary does in the next verse. She seeks out community with people who understand. That’s why we’re here today, isn’t it? These people here get it. We’ve had the same experiences as each, like Mary. We’ve felt God call us to faith, and sometimes we can only manage Mary’s first response, maybe even through gritted teeth, “Here I am, God’s slave” but other times we manage to get to the other side and truly say, ‘Let it be with me according to God’s word” and really mean it. But it doesn’t stop there. It can’t! We have to take the long walk to our cousin’s house. We find true joy in community.
39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
Joy often finds its full expression when shared with others. It's not just a solitary experience; it's communal. When we share our lives, our struggles, and our victories with others, our joy becomes more vibrant and real.
Think about the moments in your own life when you've felt true joy. Aren't many of those moments tied to times shared with friends, family, or your community?
41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb.
Now it’s a party!
And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy.
There’s the joy. It come to bloom in the strangest places. In an old woman’s womb. In an impromptu party.
45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’
Now here’s where the scripture takes an important turn, and shows us what joy really means. You see, when you sow joy, and those plants bloom, the fruit isn’t just for you. Joy isn’t just about making you laugh. It’s about making you cry at the same time. And confident that God will actually do what needs to be done.
46 And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
This is not the kind of stuff you'd find on a Christmas card. She's not singing a soft lullaby; she's dropping some seriously bold words. This is the kind of thing that gets preachers into hot water. It sounds like she's going to upset the dominant political structure and redistribute the wealth.
Mary breaks into song. But it is not a lullaby she sings. . . . The little pregnant girl looks out across the Judean hills bathed in winter twilight and sings. She thinks she hears kingdoms fall and the earth rock beneath her feet. She feels the child within her move and she hums a little tune of liberation.
And think about it – Mary, of all people? She’s from Nazareth of all places. She’s young, poor the kind of person society doesn't pay much attention to. If you were picking someone to be the mother of God's son, wouldn't you think of choosing someone more... established? Maybe someone from a palace? But no, God chooses Mary. It's like God is making a statement, showing that he works through the humble, the overlooked. Maybe her being from Nazareth is a part of why God chose her?
Because of who she is, Mary can see that God deeply cares about people's lives, especially those who are marginalized, those who are hungry in a world full of plenty. So she calls out injustice, inequality, suffering.
The Magnificat, this song Mary sings, it should really shake us up, especially as we celebrate Jesus' birth. It's a wake-up call about poverty, homelessness, and the harsh truth that so many kids in our country are going to bed hungry. It's a challenge to us, especially when we think about how today's economy just makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. Mary's confident words about God filling the poor and sending the rich away empty – they should unsettle us, make us rethink our comfort zones.
I’m so glad that we’re welcoming our families from Family Promise today. What an amazing start. What a way to live out Mary’s words here.
54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
56 And Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home.
In this story of Mary and Elizabeth, we've seen something extraordinary about the nature of joy. It's not just an emotion that flares up and fades away. It's like a seed – it starts small, maybe even unnoticed, but given time, it blossoms into something beautiful and far-reaching.
Mary’s joy isn't loud or boisterous; it's deeper than that. It's a joy born of faith and surrender, a quiet acknowledgment that she's part of God's incredible story.
And then, when Mary meets Elizabeth, that's when we really see this joy come to life. It's like the joy inside Mary finds a response in Elizabeth, and together, their shared experience becomes a celebration of God's work. This is where we truly understand that joy is not a solitary experience. It's meant to be shared, to be nurtured together.
The Magnificat, Mary's song, captures this communal aspect of joy beautifully. She doesn't just sing about her own happiness; she sings about justice, about a world turned upside down, about God's mercy extending to those who have been forgotten and downtrodden. In her song, we see that true joy has a profound depth – it's linked to hope, to change, to the promise of a better world.
As we reflect on Mary's journey and her song, let's think about how we're sowing seeds of joy in the world. Are we like Mary, open to God's call, even when it leads us into the unknown? Do we recognize that our joy, when shared, can lift up others, just as Elizabeth and Mary lifted each other?
As we leave here today, let's carry this message in our hearts. Let's be people who sow joy in the ordinary moments of life, in our interactions, in our acts of kindness. Let's remember that joy often starts small, but with time and sharing, it can grow into something that touches many lives.
In this season of Advent, as we prepare for Christmas, let's embrace the joy of Mary's story. Let's spread it in our communities, in our families, and let it be a light that guides us through the challenges we face. Let's plant seeds of joy wherever we go, and watch as they grow and transform the world around us.