The first sermon I preached was on joy. It was the third week in Advent. Mary’s Magnificat guided the worship that day. My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, exclaims Mary.
Her song directs to God first expressing that she will amplify God and make joy in God’s presence. Which is an interesting first exclamation considering the fact that she will be perceived in society as an unwed mother which will place in her in a vulnerable position in society.
She continues singing, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who revere him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.
This joyous song is a protest song. There is strength behind her words. There is self-confidence in her song. She recognizes that she is blessed and she recognizes that her blessing will be for the community, not just for herself. Her song is political. He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. Mary sings her protest, sings her joy, and sings her confidence in the God that has chosen her for a very special purpose.
Joy is important to me. I listen and look for joy because I think God is up to something beautiful in that space. I believe in the ubiquity of God, God is in the sadness and joy, but I believe joy can be used as an indicator for movement of the Spirit. The World Will Follow Joy is a title of one of Alice Walker’s poetry books. I believe this so strongly. Anger, disappointment, hurt, sadness, and lamentation all have their place. Remember, just under 50% of the Psalms have lament-like themes in them. Life is hard. People disappoint us and we disappoint ourselves. Lamentation is the vehicle we need to travel in in order to find joy.
I write often “Joy is my protest. Joy is my resistance.” I see this in Mother Mary’s song. This is language that speaks to me. It’s the language that speaks to many in my generation who are disillusioned with systems and the multiple –isms that have been perpetuated by these systems that we operate in. The poet Mary Oliver said, “We shake with joy, we shake with grief. What a time they have, these two housed as they are in the same body.” I, too, know anger and sadness. I refuse to let anger and sadness live as the doormen to my life experiences. I know joy and I know grief. I believe this even stronger this year as some of the greatest grief I experienced has happened this year. Yet, I will follow joy and I will share that joy.
Joy is the delighting in the process. Joy is trusting in God when life turns your world around. Joy believes that healing is possible and trusting that the hurts that are lodged in our souls will be made whole. Joy is subversive.
Joy is worth fighting for. When sadness wants to stay longer than I let it, I fight for joy when I run. When fear starts choking me, I fight for joy with every yoga pose on the mat finding my direction again. Nehemiah reminds us that the joy of the Lord indeed is our strength. Enjoy, delight, find pleasure and return to joy.
Joy is a movement that I want to be part of. Will you join me?