December 10, 2023 Sermon – I Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy – Where?

In one of my churches, we had a high school English teacher in the congregation. He was always willing to be so helpful. Pointing out split-infinitives – I still don’t know what an infinitive is. Correcting me, during worship when I referred to my children as I still habitually do as, “Me and the guys.”

My favorite one was the day I preached my heart out on today’s Gospel passage, Mary’s Magnificat. At the back of the church, with the postlude still ringing in echoing, he grinned at me, shook his head and questioned, “Do you really think she said that on the spot?” Then he said with all the assurance of a teacher who will not tolerate disagreement, “It was edited into the story by some guy in the late first century.” And that was the end of the conversation if you want to call it that. Gee Whiz! It was one of those I thought later, “Oh boy, I shoulda said…”

Well, now, fortunately or maybe unfortunately, you all get to hear what I have contemplated for so long. No Mary did not SAY the Magnificat. She SANG out at the top of her voice. My soul PROCLAIMS the GREATNESS of the LORD! MY SPIRIT REJOICES in GOD MY SAVIOR! As she sings out, her kinswoman Elizabeth is dancing and hugging and celebrating, even though she is six months pregnant and the unborn baby, the future JBAP, is kicking her as he too is dancing and celebrating.

That’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown! I got the joy, joy, joy – Where? Down in my heart! And I got the joy, joy, joy, in my song. I got the joy in my mind. Some have the joy in their womb. We all got the joy – Where? In our very souls!

I’m not gonna focus for the rest of the sermon about what Mary said, but who said it – who heard it – and how they acted on it! Mary, a 14-15 years old child. Unmarried. She so offended the law, she was eligible to be stoned to death. From backwater Galilee. Uneducated. Just rode a donkey all the way from home, 80-90 miles to Eliz house.

Will Joseph marry me? If not, what future will I or my child have? Will my family disown me? Most likely. Will rumor and whispering follow me the rest of my life? It did, in fact, 2,000 years later we got people who doubt her Divine visit and God-given words. Yet, she PROCLAIMS / SINGS: From this day all generations will call me blessed: The Almighty has done great things for me and holy is God’s name.

What’s holding you back from proclaiming the greatness of the Lord? What’s holding you back from singing, the Lord has done great things for me!?! We all got troubles. We all have stuff in our lives. Our church has stuff. Our Christian endeavor has stuff. And still we rejoice with the beleaguered Mother of God!
And look who is celebrating with Mary. Elizabeth is one of my favorites in the Bible. How can she not be one of our heroes? The older I manage to get the more she is one of my heroes.

You don’t have to be young to serve the Lord. God will use us as God chooses to use you! At any stage of life. She has been praying and praying for a child. Elizabeth Lesson: Keep praying. Don’t give up. Persistence pays. She is convinced, “Anything is possible with God.”

It makes no sense for her to be expecting. Too old. And let’s give her a break – her husband was too old, too skeptical, didn’t really believe. She overcame division in her own home to celebrate the coming of Jesus. Elizabeth Lesson: No circumstances can separate us for God’s miraculous action in our lives.

Filled with the Holy Spirit she sings, “Who am I that the Mother of my Savior – that My Savior has come to me?” Elizabeth Lesson: Who are we? Mostly nobodies from no where and not really special. At least that describes me. Yet, I / we are too filled with the Holy Spirit! “Do you not know that you are a Temple of the Holy Spirit?”

As Elizabeth just knew without ever going to Rabbi school, and as the over educated Apostle Paul stated, “The Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you…His Spirit dwells in you!” Romans 8:11.

“Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Blessed are you my brothers and sisters because you believe – And the Almighty is doing great things for us and through us.

Which brings us to the Great and Powerful JBAP! THE Prophet of the Most High God who goes before God’s people with the knowledge of salvation.

As the Gospel of John states right at its beginning, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.” John 1:6-7

There was never a more powerful, challenging, magnetic person and or celebrated speaker, except for Christ himself. But in Luke 1, obviously he is not the Great and Powerful JBAP not yet. I’m even willing to bet everything I have and ever will have that when Mary comes and for that visit and sings her song, John hadn’t baptized a single – solitary person.

Yet in today’s Gospel he proclaims the Greatness of the Lord – the Joy of the Lord literally before he could ever speak.

We mostly reserve the Isaiah passage we read today to only refer to the grown-up, power man of the wilderness wearing camel’s hair, leather and eating locusts and honey. Yet, we can back up the Herald of Glad Tidings who proclaims: “Here is your God.” To before he was even born. Talk about doing a lot with few resources!

One of our favorite family jokes is that Chuck attended his first Rocky Mountain Small Church Conference before he could actually see or be seen. Kim was expecting when we went to the inaugural event.

JBAP was a prophet, not from the cradle, but before the cradle. Kicking his mom in the side, from the inside letting her know – Salvation has Come! Here is your God!
Some of us are great talkers. Some of us just talk a lot (raise hand). Others of you don’t talk much. Some lead what is called exemplary lives – preaching with our actions. Some of us are kicking and sometimes being dragged into knowledge of our salvation.

Some of us don’t think we can do this. Our church doesn’t have enough resources to do proclaim the greatness of the Lord. The world is too against our Christian values and beliefs…

And a little child shall lead them…

Of course, we are talking about Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. AND we are talking about JBAP, before he was great and powerful. We are talking about all of us when we approach our faith like children: Trusting, celebrating, being bratty sometimes, being golden sometimes.

The glory of the Lord has been revealed. And here it is. We proclaim it no matter who we are, and with whatever resources, personal and collectively we might have.

As Matthew West sings, “I’m just a nobody, trying to tell everybody about somebody who saved my soul.”

That’s what the Visitation between Mary, Jesus and Eliz and JBAP is all about.

As Mary sings, as Elizabeth joins the refrain, and the unborn JBAP dances, we join the celebration:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. For he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed: The Almighty has done great things for me and holy is His name.

ABOUT REV. STEVE NOFEL: Steve was originally ordained in another denomination 32 years ago. He has been a PCUSA pastor for 28 plus years. His wife, Kim, is also a PCUSA pastor. Right after they were married, they moved to her first call in southeast Nebraska. Steve fell into interim / transitional ministry and found his calling. He served as an interim minister for 11 years. Then Kim and Steve became co-pastors for 12 years in Cortez, Colorado. After leaving Cortez, he once again found his niche in transitional ministry. Steve has been serving congregations in Baltimore Presbytery as “Staff Interim” for the last year.