“Wait Upon the Lord with Rejoicing” – Luke 1:39-45
1. Me… Not so happy
Four years ago, I spent three months being not so happy. Do you know why? My wife – my best friend – left me. Oh, she didn’t leave me permanently, but she did go far, far away… all the way to Africa to spend some time with our grandchildren. It was planned, and in fact it was my idea – not to get rid of her, but to allow her to do something she really wanted to do. But while she was gone I was not so happy. I didn’t have anybody to talk with when I got home from work every day. I didn’t have anybody to do things with – like go for a walk, or go out to a restaurant, or go to a play. I didn’t have anyone to kiss goodnight. Oh, I know, you don’t want to hear that mushy stuff. But I tell you, it was kind of lonely.
And it was almost EXACTLY four years ago – I think it was December 6 – that she came home. And that made me very happy. You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. And our key word for today – REJOICING – was my word!
2. Airports are joy-full places
When someone comes for a visit, or when someone comes home after a visit, there is a lot of rejoicing. In fact, airports are some of the happiest places to observe people. There are a lot of smiles, a lot of hugging, some running and hugging, some hand-holding, and lots of kissing. Oh, I know, you don’t want to hear that mushy stuff.
But before the smiles, and hugging, and hand-holding, and kissing – SORRY – there is a lot of waiting. You’ve known for weeks that the person is coming on THAT day! And you’ve waited – patiently, sometimes impatiently – for THAT day to arrive! And when it does, you wake up early, because it’s hard to wait, it’s hard to get excited, when you’re sleeping. You wake up early, and wait, wait, wait, until it’s time to go to the airport. But the hands on the clock seem to g-o s-o, s-o s-l-o-w-l-y. Finally, it’s time to go, and you hurry up, but then you have to wait in traffic, and you want so much to be in the airport WAITING room when that person arrives. But you get there in time, and then you have to park and go in to wait. And you wait and you wait and you wait because it takes a while to get off the plane, and to get the luggage, and maybe to go through customs. You wait until finally the one you’re waiting for comes around the corner. You recognize their body size, and their walk, and the luggage, and your hug can hardly wait to come out, so you run… and then at long last there is the meaningful embrace and kiss – OH, SORRY… that’s the last time!! And there’s lots of talking – about the trip, and about what’s happened since you last saw each other. And ALL of this could fall into that category of REJOICING… because you can’t wipe the smiles off of the faces of people who have been apart and who have now come home. There is JOY in their hearts, and it bubbles up to show in their faces. Not even COVID masks can hide joy!!
3. Elizabeth and Mary meeting again
Now the story we heard from Luke 1 this morning was about two people meeting after a long time apart. Let’s talk about Elizabeth first. She lived in the hill country of Judea – that was south of Jerusalem, south of Bethlehem. (And maybe you know what was going to happen in Bethlehem!) Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah was a priest and sometimes he would work a shift burning incense at the temple in Jerusalem. Elizabeth and Zechariah were old – like grandpa and grandma old, or maybe even great grandpa and grandma old. And something had kept them from being really, really, REALLY joyful – they did not have any children. In those days, and among the Jewish people, it was kind of a sad thing to not have any children. People would talk about you, behind your back, they might even conclude that you had some bad and unrepented sin, and that God was punishing you by keeping you from having children. So, Elizabeth’s whole adult life was spent waiting, waiting, waiting to have a child. And then one day the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah while he was serving at the altar of incense. He told Zechariah that he and Elizabeth would have a baby, a special baby that would prepare the people for the coming of the Lord, the promised Saviour. [Oh, and just a note… Zechariah didn’t really believe Gabriel, since he and Elizabeth were old, and so he was prevented from speaking until that baby was born.] But when Elizabeth became pregnant… well, I can imagine she was just silly with joy: “I’m pregnant, I’m pregnant! I’m going to have a baby! God has shown His blessing and favour to me.” Her life-long waiting turned into rejoicing.
OK… while all that was happening south of Bethlehem, far away up north in Nazareth, a young girl named Mary was visited by that same angel Gabriel. She WASN’T waiting to have a baby. She wasn’t even THINKING about having a baby. She wasn’t even married yet!! But what did the angel tell her? Well, it was something like this:
“Good morning, Mary! You’re beautiful with God’s beauty, beautiful inside and out! God be with you.”
Mary was afraid and uncertain because, well, you don’t see an angel every day! The angel continued:
“Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant by the Holy Spirit – you see with God nothing is impossible – and you will give birth to a son and… well, you should call him Jesus. He will be called Holy, the Son of God. He will be great, and the Lord God will give him a throne and a kingdom to rule over forever. Oh, and in case you didn’t know, your relative Elizabeth is also pregnant.”
Mary believed the angel’s message, and then the angel left. And we heard that Mary left, too. She went in a hurry to the hill country south of Bethlehem because… it just so happened that Mary and Elizabeth were relatives. We don’t know when they last saw each other, but they did live far apart so it may have been months or even years. Elizabeth was old, so maybe Mary went to help her out with the cooking and cleaning and laundry during her pregnancy.
4. Elizabeth and Mary rejoicing in God’s goodness
In our Gospel reading today we see these two women rejoicing in their current circumstances. Neither one of them had a baby in their arms yet, but both of them rejoiced just in the news that the Lord was going to bless the world through those babies. In fact, Elizabeth’s baby – whose name would be John – even leaped for JOY to know that the baby inside Mary was going to be the Saviour, the Messiah. Mary goes on to sing a song called the Magnificat to share her rejoicing with all humankind.
These two women could have moped around and worried about all the things that were going to happen, and I imagine they did a bit of that too. Both Elizabeth, being beyond the age of childbearing, and Mary, not being married yet, could have let the worry and trouble of all those things get to them a whole lot more than they did. Elizabeth would have thought, “I’m so old, how am I going to look after a new-born baby?” And Mary would have thought, “I’m so young, how am I going to look after a new-born baby?” Mary might also have thought, “Joseph and I aren’t even married yet. I wonder if he is going to stay with me.” But in that moment, Mary and Elizabeth greeted each other like long-separated relatives at the airport. So, as they waited for their children to be born, they rejoiced in the goodness of God. Their children, especially Jesus, were going to give joy to people, joy that would make all the troubles of life small in comparison.
5. Troubles in life
Troubles in life… Are there things that you are moping around about right now? Maybe you’re just dreading that you have to go to school (or work) for a few more days. You’d like to be on Christmas break right now. Maybe you’re having disagreements with a good friend, or a brother or sister, and that’s not the way you want to be leading up to these “peace on earth” Christmas days. Maybe you’re upset with yourself because of some stupid things you’ve done… WAIT, am I allowed to say “stupid” – OK, you’re upset with yourself because of some foolish things you’ve done, and you think God isn’t happy with you like He was happy with young Mary.
Yeah, the situation of our lives may not be ideal even in these pre-Christmas days, but the Lord doesn’t want us to focus on the situations in our life as much as on the one who is above all our situations, and who gives us all the reason we need to rejoice!
6. Rejoicing in Advent for Christmas
Our title for this service is “Wait Upon the Lord with Rejoicing.” In this season of Advent, we kind of have a double waiting. First of all, we are waiting and preparing for Christmas. You know what that’s all about – the birth of Mary’s baby, Jesus. And you know what Jesus is all about – He’s the one who kept all of God’s promises, He’s the one who taught people about God and God’s kingdom, He’s the one who loved people by healing them, He’s the one who died on the cross to forgive our sins, He’s the one who rose victoriously from the dead.
Christmas is coming, and we’re not hiding it – the manger scene with the baby Jesus is right here beside me, and there’s a bigger one in the entrance area under the Christmas trees. It’s really the birth of Jesus at Christmas that is the cause for our rejoicing during this season.
Yet, even as we wait and prepare for Christmas, we do so with rejoicing. We have these special times of worship, and we sing songs that call forth our joy. Here are some lines from Advent hymns: “and life to JOY awakes,”; “your JOYFUL songs of praise,”; “JOY of every longing heart,”; “in strains of holy JOY.” So, we don’t WAIT for Christmas Eve to be joyful. We have our beautiful, festive decorations up all over the place – trees, poinsettias, wreaths, candles. Many of us are going to special parties and open houses to celebrate. This period of time, even though we are waiting for the grand Christmas celebration, is also a time of celebration as we wait.
7. Rejoicing in Advent for heavenly peace
The second thing is we are waiting for the return of Jesus. The truth, as Jesus has told us, is that we already have the kingdom of God within us, because the Holy Spirit is in us. We already have the joy of salvation, because Jesus has already won it for us on the cross. We already live in heavenly peace but we don’t live in heaven yet.
Too often we get stuck in the “not yet” part of that statement, and we think we have to wait until we get to heaven to have all of the heavenly blessings, the fruits of the Spirit. We might let the sad situations of life lie to us and steal our joy. We might waste time getting down and discouraged by all of the bad things happening to us and to the world, instead of spending time in the joy of our salvation and sharing that joy with others.
Mary and Elizabeth could rejoice with each even before their babies were born. We don’t have to go to the airport and wait for Jesus to arrive before we are filled with joy. Christmas is about Jesus coming to earth, coming to our lives, to be with us always, every day, every place, every situation.
I want to challenge all of you today to spend the rest of this Advent season rejoicing in the Lord! Take time to be encouraged that the Lord Jesus is always with you and will never leave you or forsake you. Spend time in prayer, not just giving the Lord all your griefs, but rejoicing in the Spirit. Find some good, joyful Psalms to rejoice in out loud. Intentionally smile! Sing along to that Christmas music. Enjoy the moments that you have!
Too often we get caught up in what is going to happen next or on what is to come. Be in the moment this Advent season. Don’t let another good opportunity to rejoice pass you by. Enjoy the family you have! Have fun with what you have going on right now! Rejoice and be glad in his salvation, right now! Then Christmas Eve and the celebration of Jesus’ birth will just fill up your joy bucket even more. Amen.