Advent Series – Celebrating Advent Means Encountering God’s JOY

Advent-1I. INTRO

Please turn to Luke 1.  Today we are going to look at a rather large portion of Scripture – 34 verses.  This passage is divided up into 3 sections:

  1. Vs. 46-55 are what scholars have identified as The Magnificat, which is Mary’s Joyful Song/Psalm/Canticle/Poem/Prayer/Hymn of Worship.  Magnificat is the Latin word for magnifies, or exalts in v. 46 as Mary begins her song with: “My soul magnifies the Lord…”
  2. In vs. 56-66 we have the Birth of John the Baptist.
  3. Then in vs. 67-80 we have The Benedictus — Zacharias’ Joyful Song/Psalm/Canticle/Poem/Prayer/Hymn of Worship.  Benedictus is the Latin word “Blessed,” which is the first word of Zacharias’ song in v. 68.

Before we jump into the passage I’d like to provide some (hopefully) relevant background and context:

There are several major songs/canticles identified throughout the Bible…

    • The (1st) Song of Moses (Ex 15:1-19) on the other side of the Red Sea
    • The (2nd) Song of Moses (Deut 32:1-43) when Joshua is commissioned.  This one might even be considered a sermon…
    • The Song of Hannah (1Samuel 2:1-10) at the conclusion of her barrenness — which Mary’s is most likely to be patterned after.
    • The Songs of Isaiah, Habakkuk, and Jonah all have recorded song of deliverance and worship…
    • The Songs of Mary & Zacharias (Luke 1:46-55; 68-79)

The Book of Psalms are a collection of songs of worship.  (We could even think of them as a hymnbook.)  These other psalms/songs are scattered throughout Scripture and each is a response of worship and gratitude when God had moved in great love, or power, or deliverance.

It’s not like watching The Music Man or South Pacific, or Glee – where the characters regularly breakout into song… What we can learn from the Jewish people is that when God moved in great love, or great power, or great deliverance – they stopped, they reflected, they took notice — and they worshipped.

Another insight that we can take notice of before we read the text is that God had been absolutely silent for 400 years![1]  That’s almost twice as long as the United States has existed — no inspired prophet, priest, or king spoke to the people on behalf of God.

At the close of the book of Malachi in the OT, the nation of Israel is back again in Palestine after their captivity, but they are still under the domination of the Babylonians.

When the NT opens we find the nation of Israel has been vanquished by Rome.  Israel was a puppet state – and Herod was the puppet King.

After 400 years of silence Luke records that Zacharias a Priest, in the course of his priestly duties, has an encounter with an angel sent from God.  Luke 1:12 tells us that when Zacharias saw Gabriel the angel he was “troubled” and that “fear gripped him.”  (You think?)

Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth are old she has been barren (much like Abraham and Sarah). Elizabeth is a cousin of Mary, who six months later also has a visitation from the angel Gabriel.

With that as our introduction, please turn to Luke 1:46…

46 And Mary said:

“My soul exalts the Lord,
47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
48 “For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave;
For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
49 “For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
And holy is His name.
50 “And His mercy is upon generation after generation
Toward those who fear Him.
51 “He has done mighty deeds with His arm;
He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.
52 “He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble.
53 “He has filled the hungry with good things;
And sent away the rich empty-handed.
54 “He has given help to Israel His servant,
In remembrance of His mercy,
55 As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and his descendants forever.”

56 And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home.

57 Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and her relatives heard that the Lord had displayed His great mercy toward her; and they were rejoicing with her.

59 And it happened that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to call him Zacharias, after his father. 60 But his mother answered and said, “No indeed; but he shall be called John.” 61 And they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by that name.” 62 And they made signs to his father, as to what he wanted him called. 63 And he asked for a tablet and wrote as follows, “His name is John.” And they were all astonished. 64 And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God. 65 Fear came on all those living around them; and all these matters were being talked about in all the hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them kept them in mind, saying, “What then will this child turn out to be?” For the hand of the Lord was certainly with him.

67 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people,
69 And has raised up a horn of salvation for us
In the house of David His servant—
70 As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old—
71 Salvation from our enemies,
And from the hand of all who hate us;
72 To show mercy toward our fathers,
And to remember His holy covenant,
73 The oath which He swore to Abraham our father,
74 To grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies,
Might serve Him without fear,
75 In holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.
76 “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
For you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways;
77 To give to His people the knowledge of salvation
By the forgiveness of their sins,
78 Because of the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us,
79 To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.”

80 And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel.

II. BODY

This morning we lit the JOY candle.  Certainly we hear – and hopefully feel — great JOY in these songs of Mary and Zacharias.

I find it interesting that a young woman and an old man – a youth and senior citizen, sing these two songs.  There is hope and longing – infused with JOY and expectation in these songs.

Joy is difficult to pin down and define…

  • One way to narrow it done is to distinguish JOY from happiness.
    • Happiness depends on “happenings.”  It comes from the same root word “happenstance,” which is circumstantial.
    • So, we begin to understand that happiness is external while JOY is internal.
  • Someone has defined JOY as: calm delight.
  • Another definition for JOY is: The positive confidence we feel from knowing & trusting God – regardless of our circumstances.”  As you can see that’s a lot different from happiness…
  • John Pier would say that Christian JOY is not natural.  He says envy or greed, ARE natural (for example), but JOY is not.  Christian JOY, Piper says, is spiritual and not natural.  And when something is spiritual, it must come from the Holy Spirit.

I have found that JOY will often follow a pattern and that almost all relationships and life ventures will follow a predictable pattern.  This pattern can be identified in three phases:

  • Romance — Our idealistic perceptions, expectations, and plans.
  • Disillusionment — To have an illusion is to have a false idea.  So, to be dis-illusioned is to have reality break in upon us.  This is a critical period when we encounter reality and disappointment.  Things don’t work out like we planned and we are tempted to turn back or give up.  The Disillusionment phase is not a bad phase.  It is a necessary and important step to go through.  We can embrace it as a time to dig deeper, to get in touch with God, and seek His face.  Disillusionment is like a fork in the road.  We can commit to follow our own will and desires – or we can take the road less travelled…
  • We experience the final phase of JOY when we positively work through Disillusionment.  By embracing the difficult phase of challenges and obstacles, we are able to align ourselves more fully with God’s heart and plans.

There is a story about a Hasidic rabbi who tells his people that if they study the Torah, it will put Scripture on their hearts.  One of the students asked, “Why on our hearts instead of in our hearts?”  The rabbi answered, “Only God can put Scripture inside.  But reading sacred text can put it on your hearts, and then when your hearts break, the holy words will fall inside.[2]

As I read and studied these two songs I found myself looking for insights from Mary and Zacharias into how to make deposits of JOY into my heart and soul.

A.  In Mary’s song I found two words that motivated me to consider more deeply the source of Mary’s JOY.  We sense her JOY right out of the gate when she begins her song with the words: “My soul exalts the Lord.  And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior” (vs. 46-47).  The two words are: humility and fear.

1.  Humility – V. 48 “For has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave.”

A few months ago we studied the Beatitudes, which are contained in the Sermon on the Mount (Mat 5-7).  And we identified them as the unlikely route to JOY.

What we found in the Beatitudes was that as we were willing to own our spiritual poverty, that God would take us on a journey through mourning, then meekness (or, brokenness), then a hunger and thirst for righteous, then mercy, and then purity of heart, which leads to us toward becoming peacemakers (instead of peacekeepers).  We also found out that when we live this way that persecution can be normative.  (We also discovered from the life Jesus that most persecution comes from religious people.)

Joy grows and deepens in our lives as we walk this road less travelled that begins with humility – owning our own issues.

2.  Fear — A healthy and holy fear of God will feed our JOY.  The second is a phrase found in v. 50: “And [God’s] mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him.”

There are many passages that speak to the fear of the Lord:

  • Ps 19:9 – The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever…
  • Ps 111:10 – The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.
  • Pro 8:13 begins to define the fear of the Lord saying, The fear of the LORD is to hate evil, pride, and arrogance…
  • Ps 130:4 is quite interesting, the psalmist says, But there is forgiveness with You, That You may be feared.  Apparently experiencing God’s forgiveness causes a holy, righteous, and healthy fear to grow in our hearts.

Ps 130:4 throws a wrench into the idea that the fear of God is disturbing, bad, or negative.

God’s forgiveness increases a healthy and holy fear of God.  What the Bible means by fear and what we mean by fear are two very different ideas.

The word fear does contain the idea of humility, awe, and amazement.  Yet the Biblical concept of fear must also contain JOY and wonder.  Because then grace and forgiveness wouldn’t increase it if it was a bad thing.

Healthy biblical fear of God requires us to live in the tension of boldness in knowing that God loves me and at the same time seeing and acknowledging my own depravity – that I am a sinner saved by grace.

These two perspectives grow together in the Christian life.  We call it living in the gospel tension – and the tension produces vitality.

If my self-image is based on my performance then I will feel bold and confident, but I will not be loving and humble toward others.

Or, if my performance is lacking and I’m not doing well, I will feel very humbled and will tend to be kind and sensitive to others – but not confident.

But the gospel brings them both together – I’m so sinful that God had to die for me – and at the same time I am so loved that Jesus was willing to die for me.

When we consider the word FEAR I would suggest that we see it as wonder-filled and bold humility.  It can’t mean “scared” because forgiveness wouldn’t increase it.

B.  In Zacharias’ Song I will just mention one important take-away: Zacharias had forward looking faith.

In one of his sermons John Piper stated that he thought Zacharias being struck deaf and dumb by the angel Gabriel was more a gift than a punishment.

During those nine months he was forced to be quiet, to think deeply, and ponder God and the Scriptures.

To communicate with his wife and others he needed to look into their eyes and learn how to communicate love and affection without words.

As a result of this forced “quiet time” Zacharias emerged with a whole new perspective and attitude.  This teaches us how important silence is.

Notice how his song contains a past tense perspective…

  • V. 68 – He has visited us…
  • V. 69 – He has raised up [protection]…
  • V. 74 – To grant us that we being delivered from the hand of our enemies might serve him without [the abusive kind of] fear…

And then Zacharias’ prophesy turns toward how his son will fit into god’s plan of redemption.

III. CONCLUSION

As we begin to close and prepare our heart’s to celebrate what Christ has done I want to leave you with three ways to grow a deeper and more fulfilling JOY in our lives:

  1. FOCUS ON Giving RATHER THAN Getting.
  2. FOCUS ON Healing RATHER THAN Hurting.
  3. FOCUS ON GOD’S Power RATHER THAN ON YOUR Problems.

I will pray as the band comes.  Please feel free to sit quietly and reflect before you get up to take communion – and we will conclude with worship.


[1] Scholars suggest there are 3 primary reasons why the Christian faith was able to spread so rapidly once it got started: (1) A common language across much of the world; (2) A good system of roads with government protection; and (3) A decline in moral standards because of pagan religions that made Christianity attractive to many people. Two of these factors originated during the period between the two Testaments – the “Inter-Testament Period.”

[2] Ann Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts On Faith: 73.

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