This year in Advent we have talked about the Work of Hope and the Strangeness of Peace. Today, our topic is Fierce Joy.
When I was young, I remember insisting my parents put on a religious record, closing my eyes, and in the beauty of the music and the warmth of the sun on my eyelids, I would dance before God. It was an experience that flooded me with what I can only call Joy.
And so I find it interesting that when we come to the third Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of the pink candle, the Sunday of Joy, we hear the voice of a young person, with all her expectation, all her brashness of youth, all her wide openness to the overshadowing of her life with God’s purpose. And instead of being frightened with this job God had for her to do, she breaks into joyful song—what we call the Magnificat.
Now if you know your Bible well, you know that its sentiments are not new. Hannah, mother of the prophet Samuel, sings a very similar song. But these are Mary’s words, her interpretation of what God intends for us, a momentary vision of God’s Shalom.
Her joy is not about personal gain. Her joy is not about fame and fortune. Her joy is about the sureness that God has a purpose for her life and that purpose is tied into the movement of God toward the coming kingdom. A movement of change. A movement toward justice. A movement that will inevitably bring us to God’s time—sure as the sun rising in the east in the morning, sure as the waters that cover the sea.
That is our gift this morning—Joy which has experienced the vision of God. Joy which knows WE have a part of play. Joy which will fiercely insist in this past, present, and future reality, against all other indicators, against all other voices, against all other.
We call it Mary’s song—but it is really the song of all of God’s people. For God comes to us, in different ways, at different times, when we are young, or when we are just young at heart. And we too can experience an overshadowing. We too can say yes to God. We too can be filled with a glimpse of what truly is reality, a semblance of what truly can be, a deep knowing of what truly already has been accomplished.
And from that experience of saying yes to God, from that experience that propels us to burst out in song, we are sent out into the world to be fierce in the name of the One who sent us.
Joy in the abstract can be singular and narcissistic. But Joy in knowing God’s Shalom, Joy in accepting our own part in the movement of God towards mercy and justice and peace, that Joy is expansive, that Joy insists on change, that Joy joins hands and links hearts, that Joy requires a fierceness—to filter out all the other noise we hear about ourselves and our world; to push against the powers and principalities who do not want to share; to lift us up when the vision grows dim, and undergird us when we feel faint.
The more I thought about this fierce Joy, the more I became convinced that it has its seeds in our one-on-one experience of God. So, I decided to give us a few moments to think about our own Magnificat.
1) Mary starts out, “My soul praises God, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Think of a time when God came through for you—when you were filled with “thank you” for a blessing. Relive that Joy and give thanks again.
2) “The Mighty One has done great things for me…” Part of Fierce Joy is seeing things from God’s perspective—Mary “foresees” God’s changes AS ALREADY being done. If you could look at the world, and your place in the world, through that lens, what would it change? What would it take to live like that?
3) Have you ever been overshadowed by God? Do you have an idea of what God wants you to accomplish with your particular Fierce Joy? Spend a moment thinking about what God might be asking you to say “yes” to.
I want to leave us with a final thought. Mary’s glorious song is the best time we get to see her Fierce Joy up close. After Jesus’ birth, Mary fades into the background. Yes, we see her asking for a miracle at Cana. Yes, she and the family show up worrying that Jesus is doing too much—and possibility a little out of his mind. And yes, finally, we are told she is at the foot of the cross.
From crèche to pieta, from holding her infant, to holding her dead son. No wonder you need to have fierce Joy to survive and thrive in this world. I see Mary’s voice and fierceness in the silent assemblies of the mothers of the disappeared. I see Mary’s voice and fierceness in the shouts and marches of Black Lives Matter. I see Mary’s voice and fierceness in Greta Thunberg and her insistence in our listening to Mother Earth’s groaning.
We Protestants have missed out by relegating Mary to a silhouette at the nativity. Seeing Mary’s song, its prophecy and its power, gives us a window into why the Eastern Christians named her “Theotokos”—literally God-bearer. And that is what Fierce Joy is all about. Being the one to tell the story. Carrying the vision to term. Fighting tooth and nail to protect the lost, the vulnerable, the “least of these.”
May we all find our own way to “bear God”—and to live into our own fierce Joy.
May it be so, Alleluia, Amen.