Magnifying Joy

Our text for Sunday is Mary’s song of joy. It’s called the Magnificat because that’s the first word in Latin. Mary says, “Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48), and her song has been sung for generations. The Magnificat even has its own Wikipedia page. What song(s) do you like best for expressing your joy?

Watch the entire service here: https://www.facebook.com/upcsterling/videos/477989566166983/

Read Luke 1:39-56, Isaiah 35:1-10 here.

Listen here:

If this were a small group Bible study instead of a worship service, we might have started with a prayer and an ice-breaker – something light to break the ice, so to speak, which is appropriate for today (Dec.15, 2019 snow and ice falling).  One common ice-breaker is to have each person introduce themselves with an adjective that starts with the same letter as their name.  There are two that come to mind for me in that think-fast kind of moment – marvelous and magnificent.  Magnificent Melissa.

How about you?  What adjective goes with your name?

Adjective NameIt’s fun to hear what people choose for their adjectives.  Sometimes they’re somewhat random because of the limitation of finding one with a particular letter, but sometimes the choice gives us a bit of a glimpse into the mind of chooser.

Without the restriction of the first letter, what adjective would you choose to describe yourself?

Adjectives are helpful.  Their purpose is to expand our understanding of the noun they describe.  An adjective magnifies, it makes bigger, just like a magnifying glass makes things look bigger.  When we magnify something, we are able to look at it more carefully.  We’re able to see details we wouldn’t see otherwise, or to see them more clearly.

On this Sunday when our Advent word is joy, Mary’s song is the perfect scripture.  When Mary says, “My soul magnifies the Lord,” (v46) she’s expressing her joy, and describing it in her song.  She’s singing about the reason for her joy. But notice that though the situation that prompted this is that she’s going to have a baby, it’s not a song about a baby, and it’s not a song about Mary, it’s a song about God.  She is amazed that she gets to play such an important role in God’s plan for salvation.  She is magnifying God and giving thanks for what God has done and is doing.

What is it that gives you joy during this season?

There are so many special sights and sounds and smells that go with Christmas. No matter what it is that we enjoy, whether it’s the music or the food or the presents or the decorations or the gatherings or the books or movies, let’s remember, like Mary, that:

Every good gift and every perfect present comes from heaven; it comes down from God, the Creator of the heavenly lights. -James 1:17 GNT

Whenever we remember to give thanks to God, we are magnifying God, like Mary.  We are glorifying God.

Joy is magnified by expressing thankfulness to God

What is your favorite Christmas movie?

One of mine is Elf!  In the movie Elf, Will Farrell plays Buddy the elf, an orphan who finds out he’s human, so Buddy leaves the north pole to find his dad. In New York, Buddy discovers the toy department at Gimbels department store.  One day, the toy department manager announces that Santa is coming and Buddy explodes with joy.[1]

Elfimage-3What makes you as excited as Buddy?

When we read the words of Mary’s Magnificat or sing one of the songs that have been written using her words, we might have the impression that this was a quiet expression of joy.  I wonder, though, considering that Mary was a teenager, whether Mary’s expression of joy might have been more like Buddy’s.

After all, Israel had been waiting for centuries for the messiah.  During Advent we read some of these prophecies, like the one we read today from Isaiah.  It’s hard for us to appreciate their longing and anticipation because we know what happened – Jesus happened – but when the angel came to tell Mary that she would be the mother of the messiah, she was hearing about the fulfillment of Israel’s greatest hope.[2]

In her song that we read this morning, Mary rejoices that she is the one who has been chosen for this unimaginably great honor.

“For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed.” (v48)

She remembers in her song God’s promise to Abraham that we find in Genesis 12:2-3:

“I will make of you a great nation . . . and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

And in her words, we see that she knows what God has done and will do again, because when God acts, things change:[3]

  • His mighty arm has done tremendous things! He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
  • He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble.
  • He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands.

Mary clearly knows what God has promised to do through the Messiah, and so she is able to magnify, glorify, give praise to God in a thoughtful way.  Mary song is more than a simple thanks.  She’s able to expand her thankfulness with details about what God has done and about what this means.

When we take the time to notice and think about how God is working, we find that

Joy is magnified by thoughtfulness.

If you were to write a thank-you song or letter to God about your joy, what details would you include?

I find it interesting that Merriam Webster lists joy as both a noun and a verb.[4]  We use it as a noun.  When we’re needing a verb, we say enjoy or rejoice.  We don’t say, “I joy.”  But the idea of joy as a verb, an action word, makes a lot of sense.  Where there is joy, something is happening.  We have a physical response, like smiling or shouting or laughing or crying or singing.  We raise our arms. We dance. We jump for joy.

One of the things I’ve noticed about joy that I love is that when we have joy, we’re drawn to share it.  We want to tell somebody about our joy.  We hug people to share our joy.  Football players bump chests with each other to share their joy over successful plays.

ChestBumpMary is also anxious to share her joy.  She’s just found out that the messiah is finally coming.  And not only is messiah coming, but she’s going to be the mother of the messiah.  She’s going to be the one to carry the most special baby ever born.

So Mary within a few days of finding out from the angel that she’s going to be the mother of the messiah, goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth shares Mary’s joy, and cries out:

You’re so blessed among women, and the babe in your womb is also blessed!  And why am I so blessed that the mother of my Lord visits me?  The moment the sound of your greeting entered my ears, the babe in my womb skipped like a lamb for sheer joy. (Luke 1:42-44)

Joy in action.  Elizabeth sings words of praise, and the baby she’s carrying leaps like a lamb. Mary responds with her own magnificent song of praise.

My favorite quote from the movie Elf: “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” There’s even science to back this up.  Singing helps us physically and emotionally, and draws other people into our joy.[5]

Joy is magnified when we share it.

We sing about the Christmas season that it’s the most wonderful time of year.  We help make it wonderful because there’s so much more singing and music during Christmas.  And bells.  I know not everyone loves them, but they are for me a part of the joy of the season. The biggest reason our joy is magnified during this time of year, the reason it really is the most wonderful time of year, is that this time of year more than any other we are focused on giving.

I have a wonderful book about joy.  Its title is, of course, The Book of Joy.  It’s about a journalist named Douglas Abrams who spent five days talking with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama about joy.  They were together to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday.  Over the course of five days they had a lot to say about joy.  Though they both have lofty titles, neither of them consider themselves to be more than simple men.  They have both experienced a great deal of suffering, but they are both joyful.

On one of their days together, Abrams asked the Archbishop, “The joy that you are talking about is not just a feeling.  It’s not something that just comes and goes.  It’s something much more profound.  And it sounds like what you’re saying is that joy is a way of approaching the world.  Many people are waiting for happiness or joy.  When they get a job, when they fall in love, when they get rich, then they will be happy, then they will have joy.  You are talking about something that is available right now, without waiting for anything.”

The Archbishop considered his response carefully. “I mean simply to say that ultimately our greatest joy is when we seek to do good for others…It’s how we are made.  I mean we’re wired to be compassionate.”[6]

The reason we’re wired to be compassionate and generous, the reason giving brings us joy, is that we are made in God’s image, and our God is a generous and compassionate God.  The greatest example of God’s giving nature is that he sent his son Jesus to save us from our sins.

When we give, we magnify God.

God’s joy reaches into the depths of human experience and finds that in the midst of daily life, in the midst of tedium and pain and sorrow, God is there with us.  Emmanuel comes. Psalm 16:11 tells us that in God’s presence there is fullness of joy.  Mary has seen God’s hand at work in her life, and sings for joy at God’s presence with her.  When we do good and kind and generous things for people, we are showing them God.

Joy is magnified with thankfulness, thoughtfulness, grows even more when we share it.

There’s another Christmas movie we watch every year, that brings to life the Dr. Suess story The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.  In this story, the Grinch is tormented by the people in Whoville because they love Christmas so much. So the Grinch took away all their decorations and gifts and special food. But on Christmas morning, the Who’s down in Whoville were still singing their song of joy.  “Yahoo chorus.”

Yahoo ChorusMaybe it’s the Who version of the Hallelujah chorus.  Their joy never was about all that stuff the Grinch stole.  Those things were simply expressions of the joy of God’s presence that we know because of Jesus Christ, God’s son, our Savior, Emmanuel, God with us.  And nothing can separate us from his love.

Mary’s song is full of the joy of knowing that God is here and that God cares and loves us deeply. This is what the coming of Jesus into the world is about. This is joy.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jyCfRHumHU

[2] https://bible.org/article/anticipation-israels-messiah

[3] https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2705

[4] Joy. In The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary. Retrieved December 15, 2019, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/joy?utm_campaign=sd&utm_medium=serp&utm_source=jsonld

[5] https://takelessons.com/live/singing/health-benefits-of-singing

[6] Douglas Abrams with Bstan-ʼdzin-rgya-mtsho and Desmond Tutu, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World (New York: Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2016), 59.

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