“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
A Christmas celebration needs no sermon—
the songs, the prayers, the liturgy,
the joyful coming together of God’s people in gratitude
recognizing the incomparable gift we’ve been given,
and that is not even mentioning
the familiar and beautiful words of scripture:
For unto us is born this day, a savior, who is Christ the Lord.
I’m sure you agree—what more is there to say?
So, I promise, no sermon tonight—
only a reflection on what this night brings us—and that in a word, is joy.
JOY: While so similar to happiness and being content, joy is different.
Joy is not something we can accomplish on our own.
It comes from a deeper sense of connectedness,
a keener perception of being grateful,
and an awareness of peace.
For those of you wondering if I’m venturing into philosophy,
I’m not talking about joy in terms of Platonic theory,
that is, something that is not real and tangible.
I’m talking about our palpable experiences,
however hard they are to express,
the experiences of beauty, goodness, and love
that combine to make joy very real in our lives.
When I held my first grandchild in my arms,
it brought me to tears.
Yes, tears of joy—but I cannot adequately explain to you in words,
all that I was feeling.
Sure, I could say, I’d fallen in love, but there was so much more to it…
the strangest part
was feeling the intensity of my own mortality
and that of the little life lying in my arms,
and not wanting it to be so.
Not wanting it to end.
I can tell you I had a lump in my throat so big I could not swallow.
I didn’t share this with my sweet daughter that night,
or my dear husband, or anyone for that matter.
I am only just now processing it myself.
That moment, that feeling,
was as if the boundaries of life had become more porous—
And I shared for a brief moment God’s own joy in life;
God’s gift of life, in this child and God’s own
to open the doorway to Love that not only will not end but cannot end.
Joy is what we feel in the presence of God.
“Indeed, it is the most certain sign of God’s presence,”
the French philosopher and priest Teilhard de Chardin said.
Joy is also our response to God’s presence, the way we give thanks:
As our Christmas songs have for centuries:
Joy to the World, the Lord has Come
Joyful all Ye Nations Rise, Join the Triumph of the Skies
O Come all Ye Faithful, Joyful and Triumphant, come ye to Bethlehem
Joy was the response of the shepherds that Holy Night,
as they went back glorifying and praising God
for all they had heard and seen—sharing the glad tidings
with all who would listen, and becoming the first bearers of the good news.
I’m sure Joy was Mary’s response too, deep in her heart.
I was discussing with one of St. Luke’s resident poets recently
the song, “Mary did you know?”
We agreed that our favorite line in that song is:
“Mary did you know, when you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God.”
I’m sure she didn’t know, I told my friend,
she could not have known all that song asks—
It would be too terrifying.
But our scripture says, my friend reminded me,
Mary pondered these things in her heart…
Yes, you’re right, she did;
She opened her heart to feel all there was to feel
And let God reveal Love through her—
Bridging the very experience of the human condition
is what God is about this night.
JOY came to be with us, in the midst of life on earth.
I stumbled upon another poem,
by a priest named Rosalind Brown, that I want to leave you with.
This poet encourages us to be like Mary,
to acknowledge in our Joy,
to ponder in the joy of this night, the presence of God.
Ponder long the glorious mystery
breathe, in awe, that God draws near;
hear again the angels’ message,
see the Lamb of God appear.
God’s own Word assumes our nature:
Son of God in swaddling bands;
Light of light, and God eternal
held in Mary’s gentle hands.
Thanks be to God. AMEN.