“Waiting for Joy: While we are waiting”

Luke 1: 26-56

Adapted from Lisa’s Message for the Advent Tea

A Christmas advertisement caught my attention this past weekend in the Sunday ads that come with our newspaper. It was a full-page ad showing presents giftwrapped, with the slogan underneath: “Hard to wrap, easy to give…”  As you look more closely at the presents you notice that power tool handles are sticking out on one side of the wrapped boxes, and the working ends of a weedwhacker, leaf blower and chain saw are sticking out the other end. Well, isn’t that like our lives?! Like hope? And like joy? Hard to wrap! Hard to contain any of them in a box with wrapping paper…and sometimes, over the course of a pandemic, maybe even not so easy to give.

As we travel through the season of Advent this year, we can remember seasons past where it was perhaps harder to give when money was tighter, and easier to wrap the presents at Christmas. But Advent and Christmas are about much more than just giving and wrapping gifts. As we learn from our Scripture story today, they are about the gift of God that is given to each and all of us, wrapped in swaddling clothes, that transforms our world, our hearts, and our lives. This is God’s gift of love that comes to live among us and continues to give love to us, beyond time and space. The gift of Christ to Mary, broadens and deepens our understanding of God’s steadfast love. God’s love is not only steadfast, but it is also a sacrificial, generous, merciful, and forgiving love that we are invited to wrap into our hearts and skins, and give away to others.

Mary and Elizabeth teach us in our story today that this gift of Christ’s love is both hard and easy to wrap and give throughout our lives. We fortunately have their examples, and the life of Christ and the saints ever since, as examples to help us learn how best to wrap and give away this love.

Let me remind us all how surprising and challenging, yet joy-filled that first message to Mary was: (Luke 1: 26-56)

As we remember this partnership, we can say with feeling, God bless Elizabeth, in her last three months of pregnancy with John, for helping Mary through the first three months of morning sickness with Jesus. What a strong constitution Elizabeth must have had in her old age! And God bless Mary for helping Elizabeth through her last three months of pregnancy, while she herself was rather tender with her new pregnancy!

Waiting for joy – There often seems to be fatigue, or pain, or struggle, or work, before the joy, doesn’t there? Even for Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah, if we really think about it. The waiting is rarely a peaceful, restful, calm, or happy process. There are jobs to be done, struggles to be overcome, safety and protection to be found…joy is hard-won!

I want to propose the acronym of SLOW for us to remember, as an approach to Advent that Elizabeth and Mary show us in our text for today. We may discover more joy, and enjoy it earlier in the process, even, if we follow this process with them this season.

Joy comes to us, and we find joy, when we SLOW our lives down, to live with God in our world. (Repeat slowly)
Let’s start to SLOW our lives down by beginning with S, Saying Yes to God!

Mary was in the throes of engagement preparations for her marriage to Joseph, yet she pauses her life’s busy-ness to Say Yes to God’s plan, so that God could enter into the world’s business. First of all, it is not an easy request God gives Mary, to help with God’s work. It means taking some risks and derailing her plans – and Joseph’s plans. God invites us sometimes, into the risky business of sacrificial, generous, merciful, and forgiving love… like Jesus lived. And we, like Mary, are called to say yes – to set aside our plans, and even give up some of our goals, perhaps, to help advance God’s goals. When we Say Yes to God’s risky business, we most often find that God’s plan brings so much more joy than our busy-ness; and the risks to us are far outweighed by the gains we make with God. We may endure hardship, and even some health setbacks (as did Mary and Elizabeth!) as we work with God and Christ, but we share in a deeper love and joy with them, than we could gain by our limited dreams and vision… So first of all, let us Say yes, to God’s risky call and kingdom vision, for this life, and the next! Who knows what we will give birth to, in partnership with God and Christ! It might just save the world, or at least some part of it!

Secondly, let us SLOW our lives down next with the letter L:  Looking deeper, for God’s purpose and possibilities in our lives. Mary does a lot of pondering, as we read her story. She looks deeper into God’s requests to discover God’s purpose, and how she can best work with God to advance that purpose. She looks deeper for the possibilities God offers, for her to fit her life into God’s plans, and to advance God’s kingdom goals for all people. She looks deeper, recognizing that God is inviting her into a plan and vision greater than herself, that will bless not only her, but can bless the world. So let us, too, this Advent, after we say yes to working with God this Advent, look deeper for how we can use our lives and gifts and skills, to advance God’s bigger plans and goals for the world. As we look deeper, let us discover ways to bring blessings to all others, through the sacrificial, generous love of God lived out in our lives.

Next, as we SLOW our lives down this Advent, we come to the letter O:  Mary and Elizabeth offer and receive support from each other on this difficult journey of pregnancy with God:  O is for offering and receiving support with others. We say yes to God’s risky business of LOVE for the world, we look deeper for ways we can fit our lives into God’s plan for world love, and then we OFFER ourselves in support of others, and receive their support and encouragement for us! Have you noticed yet that this SLOWing for Advent involves both active and quiet ways of being, both inner and outer engagement with God and neighbor? Saying yes and offering are the more active ways we engage with God this Advent. Looking deeper and worship involve more inner conversation with God. Mary and Elizabeth offer support to each other, in their weakness and from their strengths, to help each other bring God’s love and salvation to the world. To whom are we offering support and encouragement, to advance God’s love in our world? In our weakness and from our strength, what can we offer to help others?

Lastly, as we SLOW our lives down this Advent, comes the letter W:  Wonder and worship as you watch God’s presence and plan working out, as you see God’s love born into your life and our world. Watch, worship, and wonder! Mary sings a beautiful hymn as she realizes God IS working in and through her, to bless the world. She worships God in song, in wonder, as she and Elizabeth realize they are co-creators with God of this sacrificial, generous, merciful, and forgiving love that will save us all from the power of sin and death even. We too, can watch, worship and wonder, as we see the love, we offer to the world with God coming to life, bearing fruit in our church, community, and world! As we see children learning they are loved and can love others! As we see unemployed families sitting down to a holiday feast, with gifts; as we see refugees finally able to rest and live in the safety of a new home.

This advent, while we are waiting, God invites us to SLOW our lives down, to Say yes to God’s proposal to help bring love into the world; to Look deeply for how we can fit into God’s plan and possibilities for love; to Offer and receive support with others as we work on God’s plan together, and to Worship and wonder as we watch the joy of God’s love coming to life, in and through us. 

We are called this Advent, not just to wait for Joy, but to SLOW our lives, and participate in making the joy of God’s love happen while we are waiting. Joy comes in every step, in the saying yes, in the looking deeper, in the offering and receiving support, and in the worship and wonder.

Like our hymn, Joy to the World says: “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; he comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.” We are asked this Advent and always, like Mary, to wait upon the Lord, to be God’s servant and partner in bringing Christ’s blessings to life in our world. While we are waiting for joy, let us slow our lives to tune them in to God’s plan and work. May our witness to the wonders of God and Christ’s love each and every day, help others to prepare him room, and repeat the sounding joy! Hallelujah! Amen!

Associate Pastor, UMC of Geneva