“For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.”
I tried really hard to figure out a way to write this sermon without recalling the recent tragedy in Connecticut, calling it a tragedy even seems like an understatement. I tried to convince myself that people are tired of talking about it, tired of thinking about it, tired of hearing about it. I know I am. The events certainly stir up a lot of uncomfortable feelings.
I can’t imagine how exhausting it must be for those in Newtown; just seeing the images on TV have been overwhelming for me. Jamie and I had to stop watching the news earlier this week as we were consumed by the heartbreak happening in Newtown and right here in Alabama. You don’t have to look very hard to see the amount of pain and suffering in the world.
To make matters worse, some of the responses on social media and other news outlets are saddening and even maddening. Most notably, the response that says acts of evil are somehow a part of God’s design and/or judgment. I won’t get into that this morning except to say that this kind of theology is not only unhelpful but also dangerous.
There is a message in the midst of all this that cannot be talked about enough. As Glenda mentioned to the Vestry on Monday, the message of Jesus is more important now than perhaps ever before. Jesus’ message is one of salvation from the destructive ways of this world, and as scripture says this message of salvation is met with a leap for joy.
Last Sunday, the children’s choir offered us the joy of salvation in their annual Advent Lessons and Carols as they sang songs about the peace and justice of God. I can’t think of a more appropriate way for the message of salvation to have been preached on that day than for children to sing the words of the Gospel.
The sound of their innocent, beautiful, fragile little voices and the words of salvation that they proclaimed so joyfully saved me from total despair that morning. They reminded me that the hope of God still sings in the hearts of children everywhere, even when the voices of some were tragically silenced.
After singing the stunning offertory anthem Gentle Rain, the children’s choir approached the Lord’s Table for Holy Communion. When they stretched out their little hands with smiling faces, I found myself grieving again for the children in Connecticut, but I also found myself giving thanks for our children. It was hard not to imagine the children from Sandy Hook standing right next to them with their arms outstretched to receive the gift of Jesus.
But as I thought about it, those children were gathered around the Lord’s Table with our children and they too sang songs of the peace and justice of God. The communion of saints was seen even more clearly around the Lord’s Table that morning.
This is the message of salvation made available through the body and blood of Christ that was shed for us, shed for the children who were killed in Newtown, shed for the victims of war, shed for normal folk like you and me, shed for the thieves on the cross, and even shed for the enemy. As the Song of Mary, the Magnificat, boldly proclaims, the message of salvation is especially for to the lowly, the forgotten, the outcast, and the abandoned.
Last Saturday, children of incarcerated parents filled the Great Hall with laughter for the Angel Tree Party. They made cookies. They sang Christmas carols. They played with bouncy balls for hours. They sat in Santa’s lap and got their pictures taken. They reminded me that I am a child too.
They sat right here in the Nave and listened to the Christmas story, the story of the promise of salvation, a story that some heard for the very first time. Perhaps for the first time, some also heard that they have a heavenly parent, a heavenly Father, who through the gift of Jesus, will be with them no matter what, even when all hope seems lost.
The message of the salvation available in Jesus is a message that our children are hungry to hear. This is a message that we are all hungry to hear. Now that Jamie and I are expecting our first child, it is hard not to imagine everyone as a little child.
Scripture says that when Mary greets her cousin Elizabeth with the good news of Jesus, the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy. The gift of Jesus certainly gives us all reason to leap for joy like little children in a mother’s womb where there is only life and promise ahead.
In Jesus, God is fulfilling His promise to be with us always and giving us reason to hope again. In Jesus, God is promising to be with us when we hurt, when we die, when we laugh, and when we sing. Nothing is so strong that it will break this promise of eternal joy, a joy that echoes from generation to generation through the Song of Mary, through songs of praise and thanks, through the songs of our children.
Today, our Gospel recalls the story of two who first sang about the message of God our Savoir. On this 4th Sunday in Advent, we get to rejoice with Mary and Elizabeth, two humble expecting mothers. The scene of two women preparing to give birth hits especially close to home this year. Like Elizabeth, my wife Jamie is in her sixth month of pregnancy and the baby kicks all the time. One of our close friends is in her third month of pregnancy.
So on some level, I can imagine the encounter between Elizabeth and Mary and all their singing. While Jamie and her friend don’t sing to each other, they glow with excitement and anticipation.
In addition to the joy and wonder of this time, I also know very well the anxiety and fear that goes along with expecting a child. Will I be a good parent? Will our baby be healthy? What happens if something bad happens? How can I keep her safe? What if I can’t protect her? What then?
As much as I hate to say it, I know there is no amount of preparation that can fully make me ready to be a father, for the good times and for the bad times. It doesn’t matter how much I try to prevent bad things from happening, odds are my daughter will experience the pains and hurts of this world. Despite Mary and Elizabeth’s best efforts to protect their boys, both of their sons met a tragic end.
I don’t like having to think about these things. Even more so, I don’t like that I have to let the possibility of danger and hurt dictate how I prepare to bring up my daughter.
But there is good news. There is the good news of Jesus that I can prepare my daughter to hear. Instead of letting destruction and evil define how I bring up my child, I can look to Christ as the one who defines who my daughter is and who my daughter will become.
My daughter’s life doesn’t have to be defined by the fear of the unthinkable happening. Instead, her life can be defined by the good news of Jesus. Her life can be defined by songs of God’s peace and justice that sing louder than the pain of tragedy. She is promised fullness of life by her heavenly Father even when I cannot or fail to shield her from the perils of this world. She is promised a place at the Lord’s Table where all are recognized as God’s beloved, as God’s children forever.
Brothers and sisters, as we look forward to Christmas, we have reason to leap for joy, a child is to be born. All that is terribly wrong and heartbreaking about this world is overpowered by the light of this good news. A child is to be born and this child will reorient our lives to see the goodness and hope that God is dying for us to hold onto, dying for us to proclaim.
Like Mary and Elizabeth, we too have a song to sing, a song of hope, a song of peace, a song of justice, a song of salvation. As we sing in one of our Christmas hymns, go forth and Repeat, Repeat the Sounding Joy. Amen.