Joy

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The following is a reflection that I shared in worship on Wednesday December 14th at Salem Lutheran Church in Fontanelle, Nebraska as part of the congregation’s mid-week Advent worship series on “Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.” The focus passage for the evening was Luke 1:47-55

The beautiful words of Mary’s Magnificat ring in our ears. Perhaps the song we’ve been singing on Sundays during offering in Advent is playing in your mind from Holden Evening Prayer?

There’s not much more joy we can experience than rejoicing in God our Savior, recalling all that God has done, continues to do, and will do as God continues to promise and be present, with us, Emmanuel, and for us.

Now, I have a confession. I get to talk, share, teach, and preach about joy a lot as the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod. But don’t worry, I’m not entirely preaching about stewardship this evening.

I want to think a little about joy with all of you, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll learn a little more about each other- other than I’m just the pastor’s spouse who works for the synod in Omaha and drives all around Nebraska a fair amount. So, here’s a tiny bit of my story.

Growing up, nothing brought me more joy this time of year than decorating for Christmas, playing with my grandparents’ and parents’ nativity sets, and sharing the joy of the season through song, hosting Christmas parties, and participating in lots of worship services and concerts. I wonder, where do you find joy this time of year?

“And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.”

Staring into the nativity at the base of our Christmas tree in the living room of the parsonage is like staring into a memory for me. You see, I grew up spending lots of time at my grandparents’ house, and this time of year, that meant lots of time telling stories and playing with the many pieces of the olive wood nativity from the Holy Land they had.

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The nativity from my grandparents at the base of our tree.

I loved that set so much, that for our wedding six years ago, Grandma gave that beautiful nativity set to Allison and me as our wedding present. It is such a vessel of joy- of telling the story of God, the birth of a savior, and the beginning of a great reversal and the uplifting of the lowly. It’s also a thing that brings great joy as I remember the love of my Grandpa and Grandma, and give thanks for them. Perhaps you have something that is near and dear to your heart, a Christmas decoration that tells a story or brings back a flood of memories- perhaps joy or something else of family, loved ones, friends, feelings, Advent or Christmases long, long ago…

Sung as from “Holden Evening Prayer”: “He has brought the mighty down from their thrones, and uplifted the humble of heart…”

I grew up in the choir loft of my church. My mom was the worship and music director- directing the choirs, worship band, and bell choirs. You might say I didn’t have a choice but to love music. So another way that I feel the joy this time of year is through song. Through singing the carols in the pews or out caroling. Through singing and playing on the piano, improvising on the many carols and Christmas melodies old and new.

My first solo ever was on Christmas morning, back in Elementary School singing “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” and for about 15 years straight, my brother, sister, and I (and later Allison with us) would sing and accompany “O Holy Night” each Christmas Eve in worship with our voices and our many instruments. And then singing “Silent Night” by candlelight, and flowing into the light by closing worship and being sent out together singing “Joy to the World.” So many memories. There’s just so much joy that we can express through song together, remembering and celebrating the stories of a God who loves us and is with us.

“He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Through the ages, down from Abraham through the prophets, God’s promises were shared. The hope of their realization led the people forward. The wait and trust that the Messiah would come, longed for, prayed for, hoped for… That’s the gift of this story. That God in Christ has come, will come, and is with us.

I said I wasn’t preaching entirely on stewardship tonight, but I didn’t say I wouldn’t touch on stewardship. We know this story. We know the Christmas story from Luke 2. We hear it each year on Christmas Eve. Perhaps we watch it on the TV, listening to Linus recite the old poetic words from the King James version. It’s a beautiful story of God’s love breaking into the world. And we know the rest of the story of a life lived, of the Son of God both human and divine, who lived, walked, taught, preached, proclaimed, ate, suffered, died, was raised and ascended, all for us.

The on-going story though is where we all fit in. It’s where real joy comes, if you ask me. What is our joyful response? How do we live our lives in light of this pure gift of God, that of God’s son, given for us? How are our lives changed because of this?

The answers to these questions are unique to each and every one of us. But they are the starting place of sharing our stories of joy. Of sharing our faith with one another here, with our families, friends, and neighbors we meet at work, the store, on Facebook, or anywhere else. How do you show joy? How do you experience it? And what brings joy to you?

I shared a little about the joy of this time of the year for me, and I wonder, what does that look like for you?

Whatever your answers, may the joy of God born in an itty bitty baby be with you, and may it fill your heart and lead you out this evening to not help but be able to share it with others. Amen.

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