I remember my first Christmas Program.
I was super excited. I had on a nice little black suit with a shiny, red bow tie – (It matched my sister’s red dress perfectly.) I had my hair slicked to the side. I was missing a few front teeth.
But boy was I excited! I got up front and we started singing our Christmas carols. “Joy to the world.” I was timid. There were a lot of people. I sang kind of quietly.
Then, the Sunday School teacher did something that perhaps she regretted. (She put her hand to her ear.) And I let her have it with every ounce of joy that my 45 pound body could muster. Off key. Sure. But joyful!
Has your Christmas been like that? Have you knocked your socks off, dropped your head back, opened your mouth wide, and belted it out joyfully?
Or has it been more like me as a preteen. You know…when I was way too cool to sing & way too cool to sing in church. When "Joy to the World" sounded more like “Meh to the World.”
Today we’re continuing our sermon series called A Simple Christmas and no matter where your Christmas joy level is at, God wants you to discover from his Word how to have simple joy this year.
To do that, let’s take a look at Mary. Because, Mary – she didn’t have a simple Christmas. Mary’s Christmas was complicated.
Mary was a young lady. 16-17 years old. She was pledged to be married to a man named Joseph. For Mary, life was simple. Plan the wedding. Plan the wedding cake. Plan the wedding roast – duck or chicken cordon blue. Her life was simple. She needed only wait for the appointed day to marry her husband and begin her life.
Then. One day – as she’s hanging her laundry out to dry, while envisioning herself with flowers in her hair and a beautiful dress highlighting her features. She was interrupted.
A light. A bright light. A brilliant, heavenly light.
And an angel appeared to her. The angel said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."
Mary was greatly troubled. First of all, because he was an angel. This wasn’t an ornament on a Christmas tree. (Christmas didn’t exist yet). Nor was it an eggnog induced vision. This was a real deal, a divine, heavenly angel.
Secondly, the angel had a message from God. God! What could he want? Did God know about the lustful thoughts she had been having about Joseph before they were married? Did God know about the lustful thoughts she had been having about Joseph’s groomsmen? Did God know that she hadn’t exactly been paying good attention at the Synagogue? Was God here to confront her about that time she ate all of her mom’s cookies and then blamed it on her brother?
She was a sinner. God was holy.
But the message was more frightening than that. “You will conceive and give birth to a Son, you are to call his Name Jesus.”
But how? I’m a virgin!
“The holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. The Holy One to be Born will be called the Son of God!”
Then, the angel left her. Alone. With her thoughts. Complicated thoughts.
Alone. Guilty. Sad.
In spite of all the grinning emoji on our last Christmas text message – really – we aren’t joyful.
Psychologists say that when you are stressed, you should take a walk. So Mary walked. She walked to the house of her cousin. Along the way, I’m sure her thoughts tormented her. She could get to her cousin and complained. That's what I would expect her to do!
But she didn't.
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”
Did you see that word? Rejoice. That means “To be joyful.”
How could Mary be joyful? The time was so confusing. It was frightening. Things weren’t not as she pictured them.
It wasn’t the presents. It wasn’t the Gingerbread houses. It wasn’t a new iPhone. It wasn’t Christmas caroling. It wasn’t a Christmas Special. It wasn’t even a beautiful Poinsettia from her cousin’s garden.
“My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
And you know what? I used to always think of Mary looking up as she sang this song. “Praise be to you, heavenly Father.” And she could have. But....
…what’s to stop her from looking down?
“My Spirit rejoices in you, my child. My spirit rejoices in you my Savior.”
Are you looking for joy this Christmas? Look no farther than Mary’s baby boy. That boy is born in a manger – the kid’s will tell you that soon. But then, he grows up. He lives perfectly when you can not. Then, he dies an innocent death in your place. Then, he rises triumphantly that you might join God in heaven.
He says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only and only Son (Mary’s son – Jesus) that whoever believes in Him, has eternal life!”
If you are looking for joy in presents this year, it won’t last. The presents will fade.
If you are looking for joy in music, the music will stop. Eventually.
If you are looking for joy in family, it may happen. But even then, there will come a time when family ends.
But if you look for joy in Jesus, it will be there. Jesus means forgiveness. Jesus means peace with God. Jesus means you are loved with a compassionate love.
Jesus means life.
Ethyl knew that. Ethyl was my friend when I was a junior pastor in Milwaukee, WI. Ethyl loved ceramic figurines. She had a lot of them. I would sit and listen to the histories of those ceramic figurines for a few hours. All while munching on a few sugar cookies.
One time I went to visit Ethyl. But not at her house. In a hospital.
Ethyl was breathing very heavy. Her eyes were blank. Ethyl couldn’t move much. She was in pain and grimacing.
I sent down by Ethyl. I grabbed her hand. “What am I supposed to do?”
Her nephew was there. “It’s too bad. She loves Christmastime. She always loved the decorations. She loved the songs. She loved the Christmas service, too.”
Joy to the World. The Lord is come. Let earth receive her King!
And Ethyl? A tear formed in her eyes. The curves of her lips smiled. She had her joy.
That was Ethyl’s last Christmas. At least on earth. Now – Ethyl sings that song, totally on key, with thousands of angels in heaven.
Joy to the World. May Jesus be that joy for you. Amen.