Sunday, December 13, 2015

What great joy (Luke 1:39-56)

(Luke 1:39-56)

It was a couple of weeks ago during one of the first very cold days of the year when the temperature was below freezing. I was out walking around town with Ivy. We were walking down the street when Ivy discovered her first ice puddle of the year. She looked at it, licked it, and proceeded to scratch at it vigorously for the next ten seconds. This simple activity filled her with such joy that she looked at me and then sprinted all the way home, still excited by the presence of the icy puddles she ran around the house several times before finally settling down.

Does this simple joy have a place in your life? 

All of us may not get so excited about ice puddles on the sidewalk but there are other simple experiences of life that causes joy to well up within us.

The simple joys of life, of love, of discovery…

Does this simple joy have a place in your life?

Does this simple joy have a place in your ministry for Jesus?

Often in ministry we are asked to report on how many people attend our services and our Bible studies, how many people are impacted by our ministries, or how much money we raised for a particular cause. This is how we record the Vital signs of our congregation. 

Well, now I’d like to ask of our ministry leaders to begin collecting information in a new way.  This is for you who lead Bible study, mission, worship and other ministries of our church. Ministry leaders, get out your note pads because this is important!

I’d like to receive from each of you a weekly report on how much love you shared in our community through the ministry you lead.  Also I’d like to receive a weekly indication of how much hope we’ve generated through that ministry. And finally I’d like a monthly report measuring the amount of joy that God has cultivated in the ministries that you participate in. 

If you’re thinking that this sounds impossible, you’re right.

Because joy is one of those unquantifiable experiences, meaning it is an experience that cannot be measured.  When we talk about experiences of hope, of peace, of love, and of joy we are talking about experiences that deeply enrich the quality of our lives which leave us without being able to articulate exactly how.

For better and for worse it’s the unquantifiables that invite people into community… it’s a picture, a kind greeting, a hug or a handshake that says, “you are welcome here”, “you are loved”… We can systematize the action but not the spirit.  

Recently I was told a story at our Bible study that meets on Tuesday’s at the Native Bagel.  It was the story about what caused one of our choir members to decide to join this local church.  The child of one of our members (he’s grown up now) had been busy drawing a picture during the Sunday service and when the worship was over he decided to give it to a nice lady who was visiting the church that day. This simple act of kindness of a child wanting to share his artwork with a stranger was enough to stir up joy in this choir member’s heart so much so that she decided, this was it. This was the church for her. Since then this individual that I’m speaking of, and I’m sure she knows who she is, has been a tremendous blessing for many people here.

Okay, you know the story and the joy that God brought by a child sharing his artwork with a stranger. Now, what should we do about it?

We could systematize the action that led to that experience of joy by inviting all of our children to draw pictures during worship and at the end of the service give them to a visitor, but my guess is that it probably would not have anywhere near the same effect. We can systematize the action that led to the experience of joy but we are powerless to systematize the joy itself.  It isn’t quantifiable, but then again, neither is God…and what we are really talking about when we speak of joy is an experience of God’s presence…
Life is filled with unquantifiable experiences…

…like the joy of unexpected hospitality…

…the joy of a simple gift of love…

…the joy of new life in the Springtime…

…the joy of new-fallen snow…

…the joy of a chorus of singing birds at the beginning of a new day…

…the joy of discovery…

These experiences of joy are at least part of what makes life worth living. And let’s also recognize that there is a danger that we might miss out on experiences of joy with things like “I’m too busy” or “I don’t have time.” We might miss out on joy with “I’ve got a schedule to keep.”  

Perhaps it’s because of the hypersensitivity of pregnancy that Elizabeth was able to be so sensitive to the joy of being in the presence of unborn Jesus.  

Elizabeth was attentive to the Lord’s presence. She was fully invested in that present moment with her cousin Mary and what was going on in her life. Think about the joy that she experienced!  

The Magi who brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were attentive to the joy of his presence. Simeon and Anna were attentive to the joy of his presence in the temple after he was born.  

I wonder how many people pregnant Mary passed by that missed out, overlooking the joy of the presence of the Lord because “I’m too busy,” or because “I’ve got a schedule to keep. No time for that.” 

The joy of the Lord is a joy that we experience in life and in love and it is a joy that takes us by surprise. It is a joy that makes life worth living, a joy that is beyond description and yet it is a joy that we know without a doubt when we’ve experienced it.

The joy of the presence of the Lord is not something to plan for, rather, it is an experience to respond to with attentiveness! But there is so much planning and so much preparation that goes into ministry, and rightfully so. 

While God is the one who cultivates joy, we help to create spaces where that joy may be experienced through our commitment to love our neighbors. While joy is an experience that we cannot prepare for, one that often takes us by surprise…love is something that we can and should be very intentional about.  It is this love that Jesus calls us to share which sets the scene for joy to find expression, God willing.

Let us not try to systematize the joy, allow it to be a free flowing part of who we are and what our ministries are…

Jesus meets us in this joy which enlivens the Holy Spirit in our hearts, welling up within us a compulsion to praise the God who loves us.

God meets us in the simple joys that we experience every day…so let us be attentive to life’s simple experiences of joy in which the presence of God meets us in deeply profound ways…

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