Living in Expectant Joy

Living in expectant joy during the season of Advent. That is a sermon title that came to me the more I focused on the Magnificat, Mary's song of thanksgiving for being told that she would be the one who would bear the Son of God. She would be the one to bear a son and name him Jesus in a way that is miraculous. And she knew, from that point on, that she too would be remembered throughout human history and she gives thanks to God.

Imagine for a moment what it would be like if the angel of the Lord had appeared to you. Amazing as it might seem, if an angel of the Lord appeared to you and said, "Do not be afraid, but you will bear a child and you shall name him Jesus and he will be called Emmanuel, the Son of God, and people will worship him forever." That would be a pretty amazing moment, don't you think? That would be an understatement. That would be an amazing moment for any of us, especially us guys, if we were to be the one to bear the child, but we'll get into Joseph and his role next Sunday. But imagine that for a moment, the rush of emotions that would probably come over you in the presence of that angel, and even as the angel departed and you were left there to contemplate the news that you just received.

Now, probably for many of us, the first thing we would do is maybe go wash our face with cold water and think that we're hallucinating or something is wrong with us. "Could it possibly be that this happened to me?" And I wonder even if Mary may have responded in that very human way of doubt, disbelief, shock and awe and, "What is it that just happened to me?"

In our modern context, it's unusual for people to say, "I had an angel speak to me." Now, in those times it wasn't as unusual as it would be today so people wouldn't immediately back then want to cart you off to see a psychiatrist. Today people might jump to that conclusion, even though I don't rule out that God speaks to us in many ways. But you can imagine Mary for a moment, and then consider what that might be like for us. You might be afraid to tell someone about what just happened. You might wonder if you were dreaming. Certainly you would be overwhelmed. And if you didn't faint in the presence of the angel, you'd be left there with an amazing sense of wonder and joy.

For everyone out there who's been a mother or a father, think of the first news you have that you are going to have a child. It's a wonderful moment. It's one that's filled with mixed emotions. It's filled with a lot of joy, and often is filled with a little bit of fear and trepidation. "What will we do?" If you've never had a child before, you're not exactly sure what to expect no matter how many times you've watched The Baby Story on cable where you walk through the life of these mothers during pregnancy and up to the actual delivery and birth of the child. Even as much as we can read or someone can prepare us, it's not the same thing, is it, when you have your first child come? You're still learning. So there's a bit of anxiety, a bit of fear. But it's usually overridden by that expectant joy. We have a little one on the way. It fills our hearts. It gives us a new sense of being and who we are, and our interconnectedness and God's world, in God's cycle of life and faith.

So live in the moment of that expectant joy that Mary might feel. Then let us fast forward to Jesus and his ministry, referring to John the Baptizer, the one who has come to prepare the way for him, and in the Letter from James, talking about the Lord's coming. It moves us more into a sense of who we are as Christians today proclaiming the coming of the Lord, not just in the infant Jesus. As I've said in past weeks, the coming or return of the Lord. Where is that expectant joy for us now in this coming of the Lord again into our lives? The Christmas aspect of the child is easy, and we can easily associate with that expectant joy of new motherhood or fatherhood. But the second coming of Jesus, or Jesus' return, how does that give us that same sense of expectant joy?

Well, if we turn back to our Scripture lesson from Isaiah...and some of that is quoted again in Matthew...what may give us expectant joy? 'The wilderness and the dry land shall be made glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus, it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. When he comes, he will come and save you. The eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the dear unstopped, and the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. The waters shall break forth from the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand shall become a pool and the thirsty ground springs of water. A haunt of jackals shall become a swamp. The grass shall become reeds and rushes. A highway shall be there, and it shall be called The Holy Way.'

Words of expectant joy may be for us not only for those awaiting the birth of Jesus two millennia ago, but does that leave us with a sense of expectant joy? When I read that part of the passage, I thought of joy for healing and wholeness that is finally to come, for all the wrongs to be righted, for everyone to be lifted up who has been lowly or who has suffered. All of us who grieve, all of us who mourn, all of us who fear, that shall be lifted and there will be joy and there will be transformation. It will be something for us to look forward to with expectant joy. And in the return of Christ, shall there be a highway opened for everyone, the Holy Way? I think so. And I think that is part of what can give us hope, and peace, and love, and this expectant joy that we want to hold onto so dearly when it comes at Christmastime, that when Christ comes again, everything will be made well, and we will all want to sing for joy.

So is it natural for us to have a little anxiety or fear about those things which we don't fully understand and which haven't been fully made known to us? Sure, just as Mary, the mother of the coming Jesus was, I'm sure, filled with some anxiety and fear, it's only human. But there is wonderful joy for us to behold, and that is something for us to center ourselves in on this Sunday, the Sunday we light the candle of joy, the expectant joy of Christ again.

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