A Joyful Me – Plus-the-World Salvation

A sermon based on Luke 1:39-56 (NRSV)
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on December 13, 2020
by Rev. Scott Elliott

It’s hard to believe that it is already the third Sunday in Advent. As we saw early this is the day that we light the special rose-colored candle. We do so because Rose is the church liturgical color for joy and this is the Sunday set out to remember the joy of the season– THE joy of the advent of Christmas’ arrival. We lift up joy now as we clear the more than halfway through Advent mark– meaning Christmas is now just days away.

I find the idea of joy this time of year hard to think about without smiling. Most in our culture find joy in the Holiday Season– all the sights and sounds and songs and memories ooze with a lot of happiness. The joy of family and children with Santa and gifts are sources of gladness for many people. So too are the general care and kindnesses and donations provided to strangers and neighbors. Joy exudes from the reality of all the giving and the fun and love we experience – and the ideal of it too.

For those of us who are religious there’s joy saturating the narratives of Jesus’ arrival and in knowing how that young life plays out into adulthood and beyond. For us, like Mary sings in our lesson, Jesus’ name is holy; God incarnate – Christ– shows us strength and dethrones injustices. Christ lifts up the lowly and fills the hungry. Christ shows us earthly riches and pride ought not be our aim, but rather mercy and love. There’s joy in knowing that’s why Jesus showed up. In other words, God so loved the world that Jesus’ Way of love was given to us and we are very glad at that!

In the arc of the Gospels this good news of great joy all starts with the nativity stories. Which is why I lift them up in Advent, when the scheduled Lectionary texts do not. I find it ironic that the Lectionary does not lift up the Bible’s nativity stories from Matthew and Luke which anticipate the coming of Christmas–which is what Advent is meant to be about. Even the secular culture has been making this time of year about that anticipation, lifting up Christmas nearly everywhere we go.

It is natural for most of us to anticipate the arrival of Christmas and to do so joyfully. That’s good enough reason to set aside the Lectionary texts and turn to Jesus’ Advent and Nativity stories in the Bible for our lessons throughout Advent. The reality is that, far and wide, they anchor the season. And those stories are not just anchors for the season in general, they are deeply connected to Holiday memories and to Christianity in general. The Bible’s Nativity stories matter. They matter to us as church goers, and frankly they may be the only Bible stories that matter to non-church goers, because they’ve heard them as a part of the Holiday festivities.

Because the stories matter, Christians ought to spend a fair amount of time considering them in depth, becoming familiar not only with the words of the narrative, but the meanings they offer within the context of Jesus and the church as it develops, as well as the myriad of meanings they can offer as parable and metaphor and seminal stories of our personal faith today. Acquiring such depth gives more meaning to Advent, and can deepen our faith and understanding, and can help others do so too. I say all of this knowing that the stories in the Bible are often challenging and challenged. Even so the bottom-line response to them is most often this amazing shared joyful, rosie (if you will), time of year.

The joy part goes all the way back to the Nativity stories. Most of us probably know that an angel came to shepherds in the night when Jesus’ was born and proclaimed “good news of great joy for all the people [for] to you is born a Savor who is the Messiah the Lord.” That part’s referenced in a lot of Christmas Carols and images of Christmas too. Although we may not sing about it in carols, many of us may also recall that while Jesus was in Mary’s womb her pregnant presence caused John the Baptist to leap for great joy in his own mother’s womb. There’s joy in the first Advent on an angel’s lips and a babe in a womb.

That’s enough to celebrate for sure. But there’s more joy in today’s nativity stories which we tend to overlook. In the very first line of Mary’s song The Magnificat we learned that her immediate response to learning her soul magnifies God, is joy. It’s not a prosperity gospel get-things-to-make-me-comfortable response. It’s not a I-have-something-that-makes-me-holier-than-thou response. It’s not an others-are-going-to-hell-I-am-not response. It’s not a Jesus-is-in-me-for-me-alone-self-centered response at all. It’s a “me-plus-the-world” salvation that has Mary joyful. If we think about it, the whole holiday season is saturated with a me-plus-the-world approach to life. We expand Christ’s presence so that everyone has a healthier existence. We magnify God!

WE MAGNIFY GOD. Mary’s sets the tone for how to respond. Her first response at being able to magnify God through the conception of Jesus is joy! She sings “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” The rejoicing she is doing in Greek is called agalliao it means to rejoice exceedingly. Mary is not just calmly glad, or having joy in a moment. She is ecstatic! She’s the first to get the great joy for all that the angel later tells the shepherds about. In other words, Mary’s whole spirit is stoked with happiness over God as savior. That’s also why the angel told the shepherds there was “good news of great joy for all the people [for] to you is born a Savor . . .”

This salvation is for each person for sure. Mary tells us she is exceedingly joyful in God her Savior, because God looked with favor on her and blessed her, and has done great things for her. She gets that God does great things for her personally. With all the awe and wonder and love and blessings in our lives– most especially the salvation from our lesser way of being we can all be joyful like Mary and celebrate the personal aspect of God being magnified. But Mary’s rejoicing is not limited to God’s salvation for her. She reflects even more on the salvation of humankind that has arrived. The “plus-the-world” part of “me-plus-the-world” salvation matters.

It matters greatly to Mary. It makes her very happy that Jesus’ arrival and the expected over arcing result of his existence saves not just Mary from a less healthy way of personally existing, but from a less healthy way of humanity existing. Jesus saves me-plus-the-world is her message. That’s why Jesus’ name is holy. The Jesus who lived and died and somehow survived to live on experientially even now, that Jesus the Christ showed Mary and shows us strength. That Christ dethrones injustices, lifts up all the lowly and fills the hungry and shows us earthly riches and pride ought not be our aim, but rather mercy and love. That’s’ what Mary sings about.
That’s what Mary is rejoicing exceedingly.

There’s so much joy in knowing that’s why Jesus showed up, that’s why God gave him to us, to humanity. In other words, God so loved the world God’s Son was sent and Jesus’ Way of love was created and given to us as the very first Christmas present– a present that provides salvation for us and everyone else too. It’s why we are very glad like Mary and rejoice exceedingly.