Finding Reasons to Rejoice

Bah humbug!

Ebenezer Scrooge does not hide his feelings about Christmas. In the scene we just watched, Scrooge tells his nephew, Fred, that Christmas is a humbug. He basically says Christmas has no value or good to it. Fred tries to change his mind, but to no avail. Scrooge will not have any of it. To him, Christmas is a humbug. Even the loyal Bob Cratchit couldn’t understand Scrooge’s disfavor to Christmas.

As we watched this scene, I wonder what character we identified ourselves with. Do we see ourselves as Fred, the energetic and loving nephew who is filled with joy because of the season? Are we Bob Cratchit, who is able to find joy even in the middle of a difficult time in his life? Or, do we see ourselves at Scrooge’s desk simply wanting this season to be over with and wanting to be left alone?

While we may want to see ourselves as Fred or even Cratchit, we need to recognize that each of us have the potential of being like Scrooge. There is a little bit of Scrooge in all of us. I’m not saying we are greedy or discourteous towards others. I am saying that all of us, and I am looking at myself as well, have the potential to be like Scrooge and live life without a sense of true joy.

The reason we struggle with joy, this sense of inner happiness that is outwardly expressed, might be the same reason Scrooge struggled with joy. For Scrooge, his lack of joy was not just because he valued money over his relationships with other. The main reason for Scrooge’s lack of joy was that he allowed his hurts and disappointments, whether abandonment from his father or a failed love, to be what defined his relationships with others. This is also true for us. Often we allow our past hurts and disappointments to define how we interact with each other. We struggle to have joy, because our outlook on life is clouded by our inability to let go of previous hurts and pains.

Like Scrooge, we need to be able to find reasons to rejoice in all seasons of life, whether in times of good or difficulty. We need to look within ourselves and see that there is a joy that lives within us. A joy that cries out it to be expressed in how we care for others. For this to happen, we need someone to show us the way of living with joy. We need someone to show us what it means to live with a daily sense of praise, celebration, and life in response to what has occurred in the depths of our soul. To find reasons to rejoice in our lives we need the assistance of Mary.

In our passage, Mary, the earthly mother of Jesus, is with her cousin, Elizabeth. This visit comes a short time after Mary learned she would give birth to Jesus, this child who would fulfill the hopes for a Messiah and Savior. Elizabeth, in her advanced age, was also pregnant with John, whose ministry would prepare the way for the Lord. This child leapt at the very presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb. This led to Elizabeth proclaiming that Mary would be forever blessed because of her child and faith.
Mary responded with words that are very familiar. Known as the Magnificat because of the Latin translation of the first word, Luke 1:46-55 is Mary’s song of praise. It is her response to all that has taken place to her and others through God’s love. She uses familiar words likely to her that are similar to those found in 1 Samuel 2, where Hannah praises God for the birth of her long-desired son, Samuel. Here, however, Mary is responding to not only what God has done for her, but for what God has done for everyone.

Her song of praise starts with words that focuses on her own feelings. She is a 13-year-old, poor, engaged woman who had just been told she would give birth to the Messiah. This could have brought fear into anyone, but not Mary. For her, it gave her a sense of joy to know God would chose someone like her to take on this important task. She “rejoices in God” because God looked upon her and called her blessed. Mary’s joy was central to who she was and she wanted to share this with Elizabeth and others. It was a joy that expressed her love and trust of God in all things.

At the same time, Mary also expresses her joy because of what God has done for all people. Mary’s song takes a turn away from herself and towards a time of praising God for all that he has done. Her joy is because the humble will be favored. The rich and powerful will be humbled. The powerful will be removed from their places of authority. The hungry will be fed. Mary has joy, because of these life-changing and world-altering events.

Mary expresses these things as if they have already taken place. That is because Mary knows that God’s previous actions are proof that God will continue to act and will do something new and wonderful through this child, Jesus. Mary’s words announce that the promise Abraham and the prophets claimed would be fulfilled. She knows Jesus would be the one to fulfill all the promises of redemption and restoration and would bring about God’s kingdom in a powerful way. She had joy, because she knew the Messiah, Jesus Christ, would usher in God’s ways of power, justice, hope, and peace.

The Magnificat reminds us that Mary was a person of deep joy. She could look within herself and see God’s love for her and the world. This gave her a sense of inner happiness, peace, and, truly, joy. Her joy came out of a deep trust for the words and promises of God that sustained her through all moments of her life and encouraged her as she took on this important role.

What about us? Are we able to look within ourselves and see the same joy for God, and perhaps others, that Mary had? Can we look and see a love of God that comes in response to what the Lord has done for us and the world? Can we sing praises, through our words and actions, because of God’s great name? Can we live in joy, because we see God’s creation in each person and all throughout this world?

So often our temptation is to live another way. We face daily temptations to allow the activities of this world to cloud how we respond to God and each other. When we are frustrated, disgruntled, stressed, hurt, dismayed, scared, nervous, and anxious among other things, we can allow these feelings to take over and define us. Like Scrooge, when they do they often come out in negative ways in how we interact with others. Instead of joy, when we experience these moments, we often express disgust, aloofness, anger, or even dislike towards others.

In order for the joy that is found in Mary to be found within us, we must be willing to look within our own hearts to see that there is something more to us than the negatives we let define us. We must find the reasons to rejoice like Mary and see, as she did, the things God is doing. We must find ourselves in God’s story, see the joy God has for us, and claim it as our own.

This happens when we allow the joy of Christ to be at the “center of our being” and the joy we share with others. This means to allow Christ to become incarnate, to be made real, in our lives. For us to share joy we must experience the joy of knowing Christ and loving the Lord. We cannot share joy if we have not experienced the truest and greatest joy of a relationship with the Lord. Joy comes when we, like Mary, connect ourselves to a hope that is beyond any hope we could imagine. The joy Mary has and we can have is a joy that says our hope is found in the One who came in the lowliest of places to serve in the most holiest of ways. Joy comes through our love of Christ.

It is this kind of joy that transforms us from a person like Scrooge to someone like Mary who expresses a joy with others that is beyond anything we could imagine. This is a joy that cannot be taken away by the pains of this world. A joy that shares love with others if for no other reasons than for the simple fact that they are a child of God. A joy that finds a reason to share expressions of hope, love, and peace every day, because each day is an opportunity to express our joy in response to the great things God has done.

Today, we lit the third candle of Advent, the pink candle, as a sign of our joy that is found in Christ. It stands out against the backdrop of lit purple candles. There is a reason for this. Joy that is found in Christ stands out in a world that is often defined by feelings of negativity, complaining, and bitterness. Joy that is centered in a life with Christ is life changing and changes our world, because it shows the world there is a better way to live.

No, living with joy is not easy. There are going to be days when we will not want to have joy. There will be days when we want to live in our frustrations. There are going to be days when it will be difficult to find reasons to rejoice. In those days, we must be willing to look towards the light of Christ and find reasons to claim a joy that is beyond all words and allows us to experience life in a new way.

So, what if every day we found a reason to share joy with someone, whether it was a kind word, an expression of love, or an act of grace? What if every day we took it upon ourselves to live with joy, because of what Christ has done for us?

What would it be like if today we decided that we wanted to be less like Scrooge and more like Mary in the ways we encounter others?

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