Sermon - Fourth Sunday of Advent
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
Today Advent is coming to a close and it closes with a message of joy. That joy is obvious. It comes across in a children’s Christmas pageant. It comes across in so much beautiful music. I don’t know of any other holiday that comes near the amount of music that Christmas inspires.
It comes across in generosity whether that be gift-giving to ones we love or charity to ones we may never know. It comes across in random acts of kindness. People are gentler at this time of the year.
I had to do a little grocery shopping this past Thursday. The supermarket was crowded. I was heading down one aisle and they were stocking the shelves. There was only enough room for one cart to get by. Me and this complete stranger were stuck there facing each other. Not because we wouldn’t budge and had to be first, but because we both kept insisting that the other person go first.
Christmas joy is found in our readiness to be credulous, to having a greater willingness to believe. At other times of the year we can be calculating, but at Christmas we want to believe in the good. It may not last long, but it’s wonderful while it lasts.
A friend once gave me a copy of a book about the World War I Christmas truce. That was a war where enemies were within shouting distance of each other. On Christmas Eve, as both sides heard the other singing Christmas carols, they laid aside their weapons and they celebrated together, in the no-man's land between them, if only for a while. Christmas can do stuff like that. It can make us believe in the better parts of our human nature. And that’s a sure source of joy.
So there are signs of Christmas joy all around us. It’s obvious. But for as obvious as that joy is, the reason is anything but obvious. Carol read for us from the prophet Micah. The Messiah is going to come from the weakest of the twelve tribes of Israel.
When Micah is preaching, everyone listening recognizes that Israel is not a powerful nation. Then on top of that fact, Micah prophesies that from the weakest of this weak nation, God will send a Saviour for the world. And as Micah says, “He shall be the one of peace.” In other words, don’t be surprised when God surprises. What seems all too obvious to us does not have to be so obvious to God.
Or think about Mary. Why does God call upon this particular woman to be Jesus’ mother? What stands out in the life of Mary that would make her the best choice for this unimaginable endeavour? Nothing jumps out as obvious, but yet Mary is chosen by God.
Mary travels to visit Elizabeth and this occasion gives rise to a hymn that has been known for centuries as the Magnificat, which comes from Mary’s first words of “My soul magnifies the Lord.”
Why does she exult, what’s the reason for her profound joy? It’s anything but obvious. She's pregnant and unmarried at a time when this can be dangerous. She rejoices in the promise that God: “.. has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
She sees how revolutionary this birth is. It’s anything but obvious, and she bursts out in song praising God with unmitigated joy because everything is going to change. The obvious ways of the world are going to be reversed in this unexpected birth.
The ones who don’t matter, are going to count. The ones who are ignored, will be heard. The ones pushed aside, are welcomed back. The ones who have nothing, will not fear for themselves and their loved ones. Mary belonged to this damaged group, and she saw change coming, and she rejoiced.
None of this was expected. And it still isn’t. And yet the joy is still with us. Do you remember the Grinch standing way up on top of his mountain with all of his stolen decorations and presents? He was so excited with the anticipation of hearing the crying and the wailing of all those Whos down in Whoville when they awoke to find not a single Christmas light, not a single Christmas present.
But with sunrise all of them down at the bottom of the mountain began to sing. They gathered around nothing and they sang so loudly and joyfully that their voices were heard by the Grinch: “Christmas Day is in our grasp so long as we have hands to clasp.”
And then the Grinch began to wonder how Christmas came without all of the obvious trappings of the season, and that’s when the Grinch realized that it came nonetheless. The gift-giving and the decorating and the celebrations were all the obvious signs of Christmas joy, but the reason for the joy was completely unexpected.
Do you remember the star rising from out of the middle of that circle of Whos holding hands? That’s the same message as the prophet Micah of the Saviour coming for all people because He would come from the weakest of the weak. No one would be unable to connect with and share in His joy. It wasn’t meant only for the rich, the powerful, the healthy, the happy. The Saviour brought joy to everyone.
That’s the same message that sent Mary to sing God’s praises.
These next couple of days are going to be busy and full of celebration. But with all of this obvious joy that we should embrace, let’s also make time to remember the less than obvious reason for all of this joy, that strange birthday story of a child born among us and as us.
That’s today’s message of Advent joy and that’s the last step of preparation so that now we are ready for Christmas.
In Jesus’ name we pray that the joy of this season may fill our hearts and our homes and remain with us as long as we can possibly hold on to its glorious promise.
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