The Joy of Carrying Jesus

It’s now week three of Advent and in the spirit of the word, Adventus, this is supposed to be a celebratory season, as we joyfully anticipate the coming of Jesus.

What if, however, you had to be deliberate and work at getting to “joy.” What if it seemed as though the people around you had reason to have joy, but joy was really the last thing on your mind? What if, rather than feeling excitement, you really felt despondent? What if it seemed like the people around you had joy, but in looking at your circumstances, you really are trying to avoid pain?

What I’m suggesting is that real joy is a matter of perspective and sometimes, we have to dig deep down to find it. Real joy can’t be determined by what’s on the outside, because real joy can only be determined by what’s on the inside.

Real joy is not valued by what is in our bank accounts. Real joy is measured by what’s deposited in our spirits. Real joy should never be qualified — based on what type of car we drive. Real joy should really be determined by what’s driving our hearts.

So, what I’m suggesting is that, based on most social determinations of how we measure joy, Mary had every reason to be in pain. But Mary’s joy of carrying Jesus was not derived from what was around her. Mary’s joy in carrying Jesus was the direct result of what was inside her.

As we begin this third week of the Advent Season, we should all strive to be a little bit more like Mary and we should all work to find joy by carrying Jesus inside of us, regardless of what pain is going on in the world around us. If you hear me as saying nothing else, hear me as saying this: All of us are just a little bit like Mary, because all of us should have a joy that comes from carrying Jesus!

When we look at the text, we’re preaching from the popular story that is often called the Magnificat, or “Mary’s Song,” as Mary describes her feelings of unspeakable joy. If we’re willing to look just a little deeper than face value, however, we realize that by the time we see Mary’s joy, in verse 46, Mary’s been through a whole lot of pain, in verses 1 through 45.

Now, there’s always a story behind the story, and this story is no exception to that rule. Luke tells us, in verses 1 through 45, about differences between Mary and Elizabeth that take a dramatic turnabout – based on Mary’s perspective – in verse 46.

While Charles Dickens writes, A Tale of Two Cities, Luke writes “A Tale of Two Fortunes” and a “contrast between cousins.” He highlights differences between a “have” and a “have not,” as he makes plain the dividing line of status, between Mary and her cousin, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth is older. Elizabeth is stable. Elizabeth is not just married; Elizabeth is well married, as her husband, Zechariah, is a leader in his Jewish community by virtue of his service as the temple priest. Luke also paints a clear financial picture by describing Elizabeth and Zechariah as living in the hill country of Judea, which is probably code for the fact that they are well-to-do and well-established members of society.

Now Mary, on the other hand, is no Elizabeth. She’s not so well-to-do. She’s probably more in a desolate situation. Mary is only a teenager and there’s no indication that she has a job or has any source of economic support. There’s no indication that she has any marketable skills and, because she lived in a patriarchal society, she was probably marginalized because of her gender. To make matters worse, Mary is engaged to marry Joseph – meaning she’s not married Joseph yet – and they haven’t yet slept together. How then could she possibly tell him that she’s pregnant?

Mary found herself in the mist of what I call a situation, but all of us ought to be able to identify with Mary, because all of us have been in a Mary-like situation, too.

You’ve had to deal with a problem that was not the result of your doing. You’ve had to deal with an issue that was simply dropped in your lap. You too have felt like an outlier, based on someone else’s standards, but you too had enough faith to put your trust in God.

God does God’s best work, when we find ourselves in the midst of situations, because when it seems like all hope is lost, that’s when God shows up!

Now, with an understanding of the story behind the story, we can look at this story through the lens of conflict and complication, before things start to unfold and before things start to make sense. Now, the conflict is still before verse 46.

There’s a conflict between the natural and the supernatural, because after the angel Gabriel visits Mary, it was natural for her to raise the question, “Why is this happening me?” Meaning, before Mary gets to the joy of carrying Jesus, Mary must have said, in very real terms, “I can barely feed myself let alone another mouth, so why is this happening to me?”

Mary must have asked, “How am I going to tell Joseph I’m pregnant with a child that he knows is not his? Why, God, is this happening to me?”

“God, according to Jewish law and custom, Joseph could very well have me put to death, for dishonoring our engagement! And I haven’t done anything wrong!” Again, “Why, God, is this happening to me?”

Oh, all of us are just like Mary, because all of us have been in a Mary-like situation where we too haven’t done anything wrong, and we too have had to stop and ask the question, “Why is this happening to me?”

Why God, as I’m trying to get insurance coverage to take care of my family, is this man on the line giving me some mumbo jumbo about a preexisting condition? People are dying and I’m trying to pay my fair share to make sure my family doesn’t join that number. So, God, why is this happening to me?

Why God, after having sacrificed so much for my spouse, did things go so wrong in my marriage?

Why, during an economic downturn as everybody is cutting back at work, has my “money gotten funny” and my “change has gotten strange” as I still have to buy Christmas gifts? Oh, it’s no laughing matter because again I’m in a situation where I’ve got to rob Peter in order to pay Paul.

What I’m suggesting is that, regardless of the specifics of what your situation might be, all of us have been in a situation like Mary, because all of us have had to ask, “Why, God, is this happening to me?”

But here, there’s good news: when – not if – when we find ourselves in a Mary-like situation, the good news is that we don’t have to always understand God. All we have to do is trust God, especially when it’s natural to wonder, “Why is this happening to me?”

Now, after Mary’s initial conflict, things move to complication because, before Mary gets to the joy of carrying Jesus, Mary has to learn a very important lesson: “That which is impossible for man, is always possible for God!”

As Mary seeks out Elizabeth, Mary is already confused about how – as a teenage virgin – she could possibly be pregnant. That’s when she really gets confused as complication exceeds her comprehension when she learns that Elizabeth, her much older cousin, is pregnant, too.

This is the same cousin Elizabeth, who for years and years the family believed it was medically impossible for her to conceive. This is the same older cousin Elizabeth, who at this stage in life everyone believed her well had run dry! So, Mary was in a state of confusion because, before she got to the joy of carrying Jesus, she simply couldn’t understand how, “That which was impossible for man is always possible for God!”

But somebody out there has been a little bit like Mary because you too have been in an impossible situation, and but for God, your situation was unexplainable too. Oh, even though money may have gotten funny and change may have gotten strange and even if your credit was creepy, you still pulled a rabbit out of your hat and took care of your family, because “That which is impossible for man is always possible for God!”

Can I tell you that as a praying pastor, I’ve been in a few hospital rooms when other people were ready to throw in the towel and the doctor was ready to call the coroner, but the people of faith believed enough to call on the name of Jesus! So, if somebody is trying to understand the moving miracle that is your life, just tell them, “That which is impossible for man is always possible for God!”

When somebody tries to understand the impossibility of your situation and your trust in a living God, tell ’em, “God is a provider. God is a healer. God is a deliverer. God is a warrior. God is a conqueror. God is a sustainer. And God is a savior.” And because God is God all by God’s self, tell them “That which is impossible for man, is always possible for God!”

Now, that’s the joyous perspective that Mary had when we get to this part of Luke’s Advent story. That’s the perspective Mary had based on everything that occurred in verses 1-45. But now, as we get to verse 46, everything has changed.

It’s at this point in the text that God decides to flip the script as Mary realizes God has turned her so-called lemons into lemonade, and God literally turns Mary’s frown upside down!

God reoriented Mary’s thinking. Just as Mary was dealing with the complication of her incomprehension, she began to realize – well before they celebrated the very first Christmas and well before any gifts were put under any tree –the greatest gift that could ever be given was already inside of her, and God had chosen her to give that gift to the entire world.

Oh, all of us should learn something from Mary, because all of us should realize that the source of real joy is not something that comes from the outside. The source of real joy comes from carrying Jesus on the inside. Oh, somewhere I read, “Greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world!”

Mary has joy in carrying Jesus because she realizes that real joy doesn’t come from what’s in your bank account and real joy doesn’t come based on whether you own or rent. Real joy isn’t based on whether you itemize your taxes on a 1040 or whether you do a short-form 1040-EZ.

Mary has joy because she realizes that God looked at her potential and paid no attention to her possessions. God didn’t look at the clothes on her back; God instead looked at the quality of her heart. God looked past Mary’s faults and God instead saw Mary’s needs.

Mary has a real joy in carrying Jesus because, because in the midst of her situation, Mary opened herself up to the true spirit of Advent. She allowed herself to experience new things in her personal relationship with God.

And, I’m willing to bet that Mary isn’t the only one who has joy in carrying Jesus, because Mary isn’t the only one who knows the true meaning of Christmas isn’t about what’s under the tree. The true meaning of Christmas is about what’s in your heart.

No matter how many commercials you’ve seen say, “Every kiss begins with K,” and no matter how many commercials show a new car wrapped in a big red bow, the real joy of carrying Jesus comes from recognizing that God’s gift is already inside of you, and you ought to want to share that precious gift with somebody else.

All of us should strive to be a little bit more like Mary, because all of us should be expecting, in that we are expecting a blessing from God, with the understanding that we should also share God’s blessing with someone else. All of us should be like Mary and have joy of carrying Jesus because the songwriter is right, Jesus really is the center of our joy!

I want to close now by going back to where I began. I shared an evolution of Mary’s thought, from where she was, before verse 46, to how she reached a place of joy, after her perspective changed. You may be in a position now, where it feels like your life is before verse 46, too.

Sometimes you have to be deliberate – to move past the immediacy of your circumstances – to recognize that the joy of carrying Jesus has much less to do with what’s on the outside. Instead, it has everything to do with what is on the inside. There really is a special joy in carrying Jesus!

Precious God, we thank you for this opportunity to glorify your name by focusing on that which is inside of us. We all should have joy in carrying Jesus. So, dear God, regardless of what circumstances look like, regardless of what family is present or what family has already transitioned to be with you, please give each of us a Mary-like spirit so we too can have joy in recognizing that the greatest gift that has ever been given is already inside our hearts. Thank you, God, for the blessing of your son Jesus. Thank you, God, for this Advent Season because joy is not on the outside. Joy is on the inside. Amen.