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Advent Week Four: Joy Now and Forever

By the Moderator, Rev Bruce Moore. 

Have you ever been in a place where you have jumped with great joy at hearing unexpected news? I imagine Mary’s surprise discovery that she was pregnant would have brought mixed emotions.  In context, this would have been scandalous, making very interesting headlines on the local social feeds. In our day this might simply be written off as a blip on the radar, and not even get a mention. In Mary’s time, it would have been earth-shattering and the talk of the town.

Two thousand years of reading this story have set it in lead-bound stained-glass windows that do not fully capture the tensions that surround the story. We forget that these aren’t pantomime characters running around in silk gowns with tea towels on their heads. Mary was a real girl, a very scared teenager, and her pregnancy would have been a disappointment to everyone in her hometown. It would have caused embarrassment and great shame felt by her parents, her betrothed, her rabbi… everyone. A teenage mum conceiving a child out of marriage was more than scandalous and the punishment could have been death.

So, if I were Mary… I’d want to get out of town with great haste. It makes sense that Mary found refuge for a while with her older cousin Elizabeth. When she enters Elizabeth’s house she doesn’t find judgment or doom and gloom, but is met with great joy.  What it must have meant for Mary to have heard those words… “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” (Luke 1:42) After feeling shame, and having disappointed those around her… she was declared a blessing, and the child she carried.

There’s a lot going on here, but what strikes me is that we need more Elizabeths in the world. This is totally counter-cultural and flips everything on its head. I think we need more people willing to move past judgment and shame and offer God’s blessing. We need people who look upon the world and are prepared to be agents of God’s free gift of grace, acceptance, and love, no matter what the cost. God’s redeeming hand at work, does not look with judgment at the worst things in the lives of ourselves and others.

Mary rejoices in God’s activity in her life. Does that find an echo in your own heart? She comes across as very much alive, with a revolutionary spirit: she is passionate about justice and the presence of God. Ask God to fire you up with the same passion!

My hope is that we can identify blessings within ourselves and others, like a child leaping within us.  This is the good news of this season, that God brings hope, joy, and peace in times of tension, unplanned events, unrest, war, and personal judgment.  God chooses us without judgment or conditions, no strings attached!

Finally, here is a Big Idea to consider… If there were more Elizabeths in the world responding with obedience to where the Spirit is leading us, there just might be more people breaking out into song like little Mary…. with joy in their hearts. It would be contagious, and the world would be a different place!

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