You might, or might not, remember that two weeks ago, I reflected on the connection between hope and gratitude and the scripture passage was about Zechariah being struck silent because of his disbelief around his wife Elizabeth’s pregnancy. This morning, we are going to hear a continuation of that story… where Elizabeth gives birth to a son. I am going to reflect on the connection between joy and gratitude… this will be a bit of an interactive sermon, so I want to think of some things for which you are grateful. There is great rejoicing in the birth of that son, Elizabeth names him John and his father confirms it. This is an overturning and upending of the practice in ancient Israel in which the father named the children. What embedded practices of ours need upending and overturning in order for us to experience the presence of joy? Let’s listen as that story unfolds in Luke 1: 57: 66:
57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60 But his mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’ 61 They said to her, ‘None of your relatives has this name.’ 62 Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63 He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.
We read or listen to these stories each year, and all too often we don’t realize how radical they are. For a woman to name a son was a total upending of the way things should be! And when Zechariah affirmed Elizabeth’s choice by writing on a tablet, suddenly he could speak again and he praised God. And ALL their neighbours were full of fear.
Fred Craddock writes, “The releasing of Zechariah’s power of speech is to be understood as a miracle, prompting him to praise God and the neighbors to be filled with that fear appropriate to a sense of the presence of God’s power. Widespread reports and conversation about these things, joined to quiet ponderings, are Luke’s way of creating an atmosphere of anticipation and of the mystery surrounding the ways of God in the world.” Craddock, Fred B. 1990. Luke. Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press.
What is translated in English as fear, also include awe, reverence, trembling. All those things people might be feeling at the presence of God in their midst. Like the words from Psalm 67
Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.
I can feel God’s mighty power and God’s grace.
I can hear the brush of angel’s wings,
I see glory on each face.
Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.
Fear and trembling, joy and awe…
Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, has spent the last 20 years studying courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy. This is what she says about the connection between gratitude and joy:
In many ways, my research has not only taught me new ways to think about how I want to live and love, it’s taught me about the relationship between my experiences and choices. One of the most profound changes in my life happened when I got my head around the relationship between gratitude and joy. I always thought that joyful people were grateful people. I mean, why wouldn’t they be? They have all of that goodness to be grateful for. But after spending countless hours collecting stories about joy and gratitude, three powerful patterns emerged:
- Without exception, every person I interviewed who described living a joyful life or who described themselves as joyful, actively practiced gratitude and attributed their joyfulness to their gratitude practice.
- Both joy and gratitude were described as spiritual practices that were bound to a belief in human interconnectedness and a power greater than us.
- People were quick to point out the differences between happiness and joy as the difference between a human emotion that’s connected to circumstances and a spiritual way of engaging with the world that’s connected to practicing gratitude.
I think that bears repeating…
People were quick to point out the differences between happiness and joy as the difference between a human emotion that’s connected to circumstances… and a spiritual way of engaging with the world that’s connected to practicing gratitude.
Jim Bauld is going to share an experience of joy and gratitude.
So, I was going to ask you about things that bring you joy… but instead, I am going to ask you about things that make you grateful.
What are the things for which you are grateful?
This is some of what the congregation responded:
- Medical system enabling a family member to live
- THERE WERE MORE, BUT MY MEMORY ISN’T WHAT IT USED TO BE!
I’ll give you my list of things for which I am grateful in this place:
- Musical talent, of Byron who brings musical and technical talents, and the ability to bring out the best in the choir.
- I am grateful for the choir!
- The commitment of the Transition Team and Executive
- The brave decision you have made to take a leap of faith into the future
- The way various people have stepped up when asked.
- The Pastoral Care Team
- Jessie, who connects me to the energy and delight of learning
- Technology… that allows projection, social media presence and connection.
- The UCW… who go about doing ministry and mission, usually below the radar, but who reach out into the community in ways that really need to be celebrated!
Henry Nouwen, a Roman Catholic priest said Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.
He struggled with depression and the conflict between his vows of celibacy and his longing for intimacy. But despite his struggles… he chose joy… he chose gratitude… he chose Jesus. Not just the baby… it’s easy to love that Jesus… but the man… the man that demands more of us that perhaps we think we have to offer. And we all get to do that!
So, on this third week of Advent, I invite you to ponder these questions, questions that the worship team has for you:
- What needs are blocking our Joy?
- What new joy might be found in new traditions?
- Are traditions blocking your Joy?
On this third week of Advent, I invite us to let go of how we imagine things should be and embrace how the joyful adventure of God and Jesus are calling us into! On this third week of Advent, I invite us to wake up, not be complacent, to choose joy! On this third week of Advent, I invite us to not be silent, so be amazed at joy!
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity! Amen!
December 12, 2021 – SMUC