Thought for Preparation: “What you seek is seeking you.” Rumi
Joy is slippery like a fish. You wait, with your line in the water. You feel a tug. A rush bubbles up in you. A bubble rushes up in the water. And the tug was just some seaweed. It’s okay. You continue to wait. You feel another tug. But this time it is that visceral tug of another begin on the line, you can feel it, flailing in the water. Reeling it in, you see it emerging, shining on the water, then in your hands. Hook out of mouth, fish in hand, joy, food, another being, SLIP, it flops back into the water. Joy is slippery like a fish.
Joy is slippery like a fish near the holidays. Obligation, shopping, memories, loss, new life, old traditions, joy. The first Christmas without mom, or dad, or lover, or parents together. Maybe the last Christmas you’ll enjoy in this lifetime.
We are playing hide and go seek with joy in the Christmas season. The season encourages it- the generosity, the giving, the taking time to treasure love, getting a tree with family and decorating it. Then joy slips like a fish, when we remember our loved one who is no longer with us, or get discouraged about the consumer focus of Christmas, or hear fascist statements like ‘ban and register all Muslims in this country,’ or we remember that 3 years ago the tragedy of Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut and see echos of it and nothing changed in present time. Sometimes we know joy best, by the absence of joy. Joy is slippery like a fish. And can we seek it? OR does it seek us? What if we were to play hide and go seek with joy. Who would be “it?”
Hide and go seek is a great way to practice for adulthood. When the youth in the initiates group meetings got quiet, Steve and I would say, alright, let’s go play hide and go seek. And they would jump up and open up running free around the church building, and these are somehow the memories that stick.
Advent is like hide and seek with God… it helps us hold these realities together, of looking at a world of horror and terror, yet still finding a way to rejoice in the Lord, to praise she spirit of life itself. We have replaced our joy banner with the rose. Because sometimes we know joy best by the absence of joy. We know joy best when it sneaks up on us, not when it is blasted in our face with pressure to feel it. Advent is a time of waiting, of blossoming of blooming, of being in darkness and fertility, but not yet in birth yet.
Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice. Phillians 4:7. I know a family who sings this before dinner, as an affirmation of life, no matter what their joy or lack of joy. Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice. Χαίρω, chairó (khah’-ee-ro) “farewell, be glad, God speed, rejoice means to be “cheer”ful, i.e. Calmly happy or well-off; impersonally, especially as salutation (on meeting or parting), be well — farewell, be glad, God speed, greeting, hall, joy(- fully), rejoice.” We lit the pink candle, the candle of joy today.
Our characters of Advent teach us about singing with joy in the face of terror and fear. Mary is a defiant character, who takes a situation of terror, and turns it into rejoicing and praising God. It is tempting to sentimentalize the Christmas story, but around its edges and even in its center are fear, unknowing, and an ask for all characters to have deep trust in God despite a very scary world.
Lutheran Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber reminds us that Jesus didn’t come into the world of sugar cookies and a Norman Rockwell painting, “God did not enter the world of our nostalgic, silent night, snow-blanketed, peace on earth, suspended reality of Christmas. God slipped into the vulnerability of skin and entered our violent and disturbing world.”
In our Gospel reading today, Mary goes to seek refuge with her cousin Elizabeth, because being pregnant out of wedlock is a serious issue that could result in death, and would surely result in public humiliation and likely a ruined life. And this is not the only time Mary will seek refuge or be a refugee… the holy family are wanderers, needing to flee their hometowns, and she and Joseph and Jesus must flee to Egypt in the Gospel of Matthew because of King Herod’s brutal rule.
In our global climate of refugee crisis, we see simple connections of our holy family with the masses of people frightened and fleeing terror in their homelands. Mary, out of her terror, her fear, her running ends up sings a joyful song, which we called “The Magnificat.” These words echo throughout the ages, as a statement of justice and of reversal of a social order; lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry with good things. But what inspires Mary to sing this song, when she is clearly afraid and in a precarious situation?
Elizabeth, the wife of Zechariah and the mother of that rowdy bug eating vagrant character John the Baptist, who prepares the way for Jesus by calling for the repentance and the reversal of sin, baptizing people with water, his mother Elizabeth, who at this moment has wild John in utero, Mary seeks her. And when Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, baby John the Baptist still in the water of the womb, leaps inside of her! And at that moment, the Holy Spirit takes over Elizabeth’s lips and she praises Mary. She affirms Mary’s life.
It is only when Elizabeth takes refugee Mary in, and Elizabeth radiates joy of the Holy Spirit to Mary, that Mary sings her song. Elizabeth magnifies Mary’s humanity back at her, when Mary is at risk of not being treated as a human being because of her strange and dangerous pregnancy.
Have you had moments like this, where someone reflects your humanity back at you, your blessedness, your worthiness, and it means the world? Yesterday I continued to see moments like this, as a group of us gathered to sing carols and pass out post cards for our Christmas concert tonight. We thought we were advertising for the concert, but as we made an off pitch, in different key, joyful noise to the Lord, and we really wanted people to know—we are not the choir that will be performing tomorrow. I saw people’s faces light up. We gave out gifts of candy and said Merry Christmas, and asked people to sing with us. People who were used to being ignored, lit up at the small children coming to give them gifts, and invited them in, and in doing so, their humanity and blessedness was reflected back at them. Perhaps the carolers gathered yesterday were the joy that people had been seeking.
The words that Mary sings we call the Magnificat- “my soul magnifies the Lord.” From a moment of terror, of seeking refuge, of escaping a situation of fright, Mary is taken in by Elizabeth, who upon her greeting is filled with the Holy Spirit and recognizes the God within Mary. Only then does she sing her song. Her song of justice and rejoicing, “God has done great things for me and holy is God’s name. God has brought the powerful down from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly, God has filled the hungry with good things.”
When Elizabeth just hears Mary’s voice, she is filled with the Holy Spirit and praises Mary, reflecting to Mary how blessed she is. “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Elizabeth magnifies Mary’s presence, then Mary’s soul magnifies the Lord.
How can we magnify people’s humanity to them, and indeed, people’s treasure of god-within their soul? There is something justice making about this action- of affirming the blessedness of those around us, of reminding each other that God is within, that we are all pregnant with God in some sense, with the reassurance that Jesus is coming, the one who shines love into hatred, forgiving it and transforming it.
How can we sing the Magnificat in this age and time? Really what we are doing in advent is preparing our lives and hearts and homes for a new world. For a world that is already in our hearts, but not yet in our streets. For a world ruled by love and justice not senseless violence and fear based prejudice. In Advent we connect to our longing for the external world to reflect the world God has placed in our hearts. Sometimes we know joy best by the absence of it. But we should seek it, always seek it, and soon we will recognize that joy is seeking our world too. That joy came into our world as a brown middle-eastern baby named Jesus. And that joy can enter our land as Jesus, our homes as Jesus, our hearts as Jesus.
So in the darkness of Advent, joy seeks us, it sneaks up on us while we are hiding in the church basement under the floorboards and greets us saying, “I found you!” And you and your joy are radiating life back at each other. Let it be so. Amen.