Leap for Joy

Leap for Joy

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; December 19, 2021

4th Sunday of Advent

Luke 1:39-55

 

Our reading from Luke’s gospel is a familiar and beloved text that describes Mary’s visit with her relative, Elizabeth. Immediately, we see the Holy Spirit at work, for we are told that when Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting, her unborn child leaps in her womb and, filled with the Spirit, she pronounces a blessing: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb…as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy…” With these words, Elizabeth becomes the first human witness to the good news the angel brought to Mary.

 

Recently, I heard someone say that in a few months, we will begin our 3rd year living with a global pandemic. Hearing those words broadcast aloud made my heart sank. There is so much pain in the world. Many of our friends and family members are struggling through difficult times. Some in our own church family are suffering, too.  When we feel like the darkness will swallow us whole, where can we turn for light? Hope? Joy? Perhaps, Luke has just what the doctor ordered—a pre-Christmas gift of the story of two women pregnant with significance, pregnant with the messenger and the message; the story of two women who encourage each other and find the light, hope, and joy they desperately need.[i]

 

As I pondered our reading for today, one phrase jumped out at me: “leap for joy.” The unborn child, John, leaps when the unborn, Jesus, approaches. Elizabeth recognizes something miraculous is happening so she blesses Mary who will, in time, bless us all. Joy and the promise of joy for generations to come is worth leaping for, isn’t it? But I ask you: when was the last time you leapt for joy? Can you remember? I don’t recall seeing anyone leaping for joy as you entered the church this morning. And me? Well, I happen to know what the sermon is about, and I didn’t leap up here, either. Well, Presbyterians aren’t known for leaping, we might say. Not decent! Hardly in order! But I think the Spirit is begging to shake things up, to startle us to attention, to remind us who we are and whose we are. We are siblings of the Christ-Child. We are indwelled by God’s Spirit, and though the darkness is real, it cannot destroy the light of Christ.

 

If we need a precedent for leaping for joy, there’s plenty of Scripture references to spur us on. In 2 Samuel, for example, when the ark of the Lord enters the city, King David leaps and dances before the Lord.[ii] In Isaiah, we are told that when the salvation of the Lord comes, the lame will leap like a deer and the mute will shout with joy. [iii] Jesus proclaims in the Gospel of Luke, “Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.”[iv] And in Acts, when Peter heals a lame man at the entrance of the temple, with a leap he stands upright, and enters the temple, walking, leaping, and praising God.[v]

 

Mary Oliver provides an interesting perspective on leaping for joy in her poem, “The Storm.”

 

Now through the white orchard my little dog

                        romps, breaking the new snow

                        with wild feet.

            Running here running there, excited,     

                        hardly able to stop, he leaps, he spins

            until the white snow is written upon

                        in large, exuberant letters,

            a long sentence, expressing

                        the pleasures of the body in this world.

            Oh, I could not have said it better

                        myself.

 

In response to the coming birth of the Christ-child and the new kin-dom he will usher in, Elizabeth and Mary offer blessing and praise. Surely, a leap for joy is in order for us as well because we know the rest of the story. We know what this child will accomplish and is still accomplishing. We know that just as Elizabeth and Mary find community and encouragement in each other’s presence, we have that too—here in person and through the miraculous medium of digital streaming.

 

When we look out at the world, we recognize that we live in the in-between times. Christ has come for the salvation of the world, but the world is not yet as Christ longs for it to be. There are still dark days. And still, the reality for too many people around the globe includes the lack of food, water, clothing, shelter, medical care, and community. As God’s children who long to ease the suffering of others, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. We may be tempted to give up. But now is not the time to give up. Now is the time to lift our voices in song and praise and to leap, yes, leap for joy every chance we get.

 

Rev. Cathlynn Law reminds us of the very real tension that is present in choosing to rejoice while still acknowledging the broken world in which we live. She writes,

 

It’s easy to become cynical and lose heart. It’s at that point that we especially need to remember Mary’s song and know that God is greater than the violence that is so evident in the world. In all the chaos and confusion, in the midst of pain and suffering in the world; in all the uncertain, fragile times in our lives; the song IS louder and stronger. God comes to us in Jesus and shines the light of love upon us. Even in those dark times when we are hurting and hopeless and angry and afraid, when nothing makes sense, the song is still louder, and it is waiting to be sung. We must keep singing. The confusion and chaos easily consume us. The uncertainty and anxiety, grief and pain can threaten to break our spirit and steal our joy. But the song within us, the song of hope and faith and confidence in God, the song of God’s love forever coming to life within and around us—that song is still stronger—and that is why we must keep singing it. [vi]

 

As we near the end of our Advent journey and gather to celebrate the birth of Jesus, let us be seekers of joy. Let us recognize our blessings and share them with others. Let us greet loved ones and strangers with love in our heart and joy in our step. And let us keep company with those who embrace the Mystery and long to sing and, yes, even leap for joy.

 

 

 

 

[i] Stephen A. Cooper, Feasting on the Word.

[ii] 2 Samuel 6:16

[iii] Isaiah 35:6

[iv] Luke 6:22-23

[v] Acts 3:8

[vi] Rev. Cathlynn Law @ http://ucup.org/multimedia-archive/leaping-for-joy-advent-ii/

*Cover Art by Ella Hawkins, used by permission