DECEMBER 16, 2015
WORSHIP FOR THE LONGEST NIGHT
“TO LAUGH OR CRY?”
Micah 5: 2 – 5a; Hebrews 10: 5 – 10; Luke 1: 39 – 55
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
There are times in life when we don’t know whether to laugh or cry. For instance: at the beginning of the TV show Bones when they show the hilarious reactions of unsuspecting people to a terrible and often gruesome tragedy; or when the doctor tells you it’s triplets; or when your greatest nemesis falls from a tenth floor window and lands on the roof of your brand new car; or when a relationship in which there were great extremes of adoration and hurt ends; or when your loved one with Alzheimer’s tells you the hospital is a cult because they won’t let her go home; or when we want our dying loved one to stay for our sake but go for theirs.
Mixed emotions can be very hard to deal with and Christmas is a time of mixed emotions. Our good memories are all tangled up with sorrowful feelings. Our hopes are like icing on a fruitcake of disappointment. We’re lonely in the midst of crowds and stricken in the midst of joy. The sparkle of the lights around us cast a shadow from the burdens we carry. Stress and anxiety are part of everything we do. Grief wells up from us like over-stuffed Christmas stockings. Happy Christmas songs make us deeply sad. Do we laugh or do we cry?
I doubt it’s a stretch of the imagination to say that Mary, the mother-to-be of Jesus, struggled with mixed emotions too. An angel tells her she’s going to have a baby – a massive problem. The baby will be the long awaited Messiah – a massive blessing. She is young, poor and unwed yet is told her baby will be a King. An angel encourages and supports her as he outlines the plan, then leaves her alone to face her parents, relatives and neighbours. The Holy Spirit impregnates her and disappears when it’s time to face her fiancé who’s ready to divorce her. No doubt she felt great extremes of depression and hope; of anger and peace; of trust and worry. Fear and faith wrestle in her soul. The changes in her life were turning everything upside down. To laugh or cry – what was Mary to do?
The truth is that through the coming of Jesus, God was not only turning Mary’s life upside down, he was turning all of life upside down. Through all the commotion and turmoil, Mary remained grounded in her conviction that God is good and loving. In the midst of heartache and fear, she believed God is gracious. In her deepest times of abandonment, she knew God would remain faithful. In a great moment of revelation, Mary gets what God is doing and she’s excited that she’s been chosen to be part of it. She offers God a song of praise:
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
- He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
- He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
- he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
- He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
How does Mary sing this song of blessing and joy given the seriousness of her situation? Has she crossed over to the other side? Joined the ranks of the happy ones? Betrayed her feelings? Are we also supposed to forget our pain and loss? Don’t worry, be happy?
That conclusion misses the point. Mary doesn’t praise God because she’s in denial, she praises God because the coming of her baby is fulfillment of hope – of things deeply longed for. God is changing the way things are.
As we gather here tonight, each with our own unique loss and pain, this is good news. It’s good news for every person here. If God is taking down the proud, the powerful, the rich, and the famous and lifting up the humble, the powerless, the poor, the hungry, the wounded and the forgotten then the birth of Jesus is a sign of God’s mercy to those here who are broken. More than a sign, the arrival of “God with us” means that God is with you every time you weep. God has deep compassion for your pain and he is shining a light into your darkness.
When Jesus matured he frequently described life in an upside down way. Jesus taught that those who lose their lives will gain life. Each one here has had your life turned upside down – you have lost everything you know – the people you love, the rhythms of daily life, companionship, hope, joy and love. The birth of Jesus is God’s promise that having lost all, you will gain life.
Mary’s song is not a directive that we should sweep our tears under the carpet and laugh whether we want to or not; it’s proof that we can laugh and cry at the same time. In the fullness of our mixed emotions, Christmas will take place – Jesus will be born and God will be with you. God does not forget you and God doesn’t leave you alone. While you may not feel like putting on jingle bells and being the life of the party, from the depth of your sorrow you can still “magnify the Lord” and your spirit can “rejoice in God our Saviour”. Because God looks with favour on your lowliness and sent Jesus to bless you and to do great things for you. This Christmas be free to laugh or cry. Forget all that we, as sentimental human beings, have made Christmas to be and know that Jesus is coming and God is holy. You are loved just as you are and you will be lifted up.