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Dec 10th: Joy and Sorrow Intertwined: Finding Hope in the Christmas Story, with Rev. Kally Elliott.

Posted: Sun, Dec 10, 2023
Joy and Sorrow Intertwined: Finding Hope in the Christmas Story with Rev. Kally Elliott. Series: How Does a Weary World Rejoice? A Spacious Christianity, First Presbyterian Church of Bend, Oregon. This week, a reflection on how joy and pain often grow together, as seen in the Christmas story of Mary and Elizabeth receiving miraculous gifts despite past hardships and uncertainties about the future.

A Part of the Series:

Rev. Kally Elliott


Joy and Sorrow Intertwined: Finding Hope in the Christmas Story with Rev. Kally Elliott. Series: How Does a Weary World Rejoice? A Spacious Christianity, First Presbyterian Church of Bend, Oregon.

This week, a reflection on how joy and pain often grow together, as seen in the Christmas story of Mary and Elizabeth receiving miraculous gifts despite past hardships and uncertainties about the future.


What brings you joy? Some things that bring me joy are watching my ferocious German Shepherd wrestle with her best friend, peanut. Or watching my son’s make a tackle in a football game. My daughter ham it up in a musical or going for a long run early in the morning. Or maybe the joy you’ve felt has been the quiet or kind. The kind that sneaks up on you surprising you. Maybe it’s waking up to a crisp snowy morning. Maybe it’s the warmth of the sun on your skin are the security found and hand grasping yours or the snuggly baby sleeping on your chest. Maybe it makes you pause. Bask in the moment your senses heightened as you find yourself overwhelmed with gratitude content, that you are right where you are supposed to be. Social scientists claim that joy connects us to our core identity to our values and priorities. And it is the emotion that makes life worth living in the moment. Some even say that in true joy our souls are opened. But what happens when Joy seems elusive, or even impossible? What happens when we experience a tragedy when our marriage crumbles, our child dies, our beloved pet gets lost disease takes hold of our bodies. Maybe you live with depression and find that sometimes no matter what you do, to feel joy is just beyond impossible. The Christmas story is often presented to us as one of joy breaking into the darkness and sorrow of the world. God coming to us as a baby one of us, one for us. To be with us Emmanuelle. Do not be afraid the angel says I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. It is a story filled with wonder and joy but it is also a story infused with deep pain. Pain that often gets glossed over with bright angels and shouts of Glory to God in the highest. But the pain is there growing alongside the joy, as it almost always is in our own stories, joy and sorrow, joy and pain they they grow up alongside each other like intertwining vines. Greetings favored one, the angel shouts the Lord is with you. Do not be afraid, Mary, For you have found favor with God and now you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you will name him Jesus. Now we hear this announcement and immediately think well joy, but for Mary, likely a teenager still living with her parents. I imagine she is struck by the injustice of all the possible horrors an unwed pregnancy could bring her. The text says Mary was greatly troubled at his words. favored one she thinks this is a death sentence for me. How can this even be I’m a virgin. I’ve done it all right. What will my parents say? What will they do? How can I explain this to Joseph? I’m pregnant but the Father is God. What shame shall be heaped upon my family my patrolled upon me What if they think I committed adultery? The penalty for adultery is stoning. Public stoning. Don’t worry, replace the angel, the Holy Spirit has got you marry, the child will be God’s Son for nothing is impossible with God. And that was that. What else could Mary say? I mean, she was talking to an angel and I’m guessing that at some point in a conversation with an angel you just kind of throw up your hands and go along with whatever they say. So she says Fine, fine. Here I am a servant of the Lord. Or maybe the angels words sparked something in her. You know nothing is impossible with God Mary. And maybe even a tiny seed of joy began to take root deep within her heart. it nothing. Nothing is impossible with God. Even this situation, even my situation, nothing is impossible with God. Maybe it will be okay. Maybe I will be okay. I’m going to have a baby, a baby. Now, what do you do with news like that? How do you even process that? With whom can you share this kind of heartache? Who could possibly see past the shame of the situation to the joy? Mary was going to have a baby. But who would believe her when she said she heard this news from an angel? Mary knew her aunt Elizabeth, she would get it. So Mary packs her bags, and she goes with haste to her aunt Elizabeth and uncle’s Zacharias house 100 miles away. During his announcement the angel had mentioned Elizabeth was also pregnant, a miracle for as she had yearned for a child for decades, so maybe she wouldn’t turn away an unwed pregnant teenager. Maybe Mary could even hide out at Elizabeth’s house for a few months. But it’s better than that, for when Mary walks into the door at Elizabeth’s house calling Hello. Elizabeth’s pregnant belly bounces as the baby in her womb. The text says leaps for joy. And as Elizabeth scoops Mary into a warm hug, she gushes. Bless it is She who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her. Now I’m not exactly sure if Elizabeth is talking about Mary or herself when she says, blessing is she who has believed because really both women are carrying miracles in their wombs. For years Elizabeth had suffered experiencing the deep pain of yearning for a child, only to be met with empty arms, wearing the shame of being barren in a culture where women who struggled to have children were considered cursed. But as with marry, an angel had appeared to Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah and promised Elizabeth would conceive a son. And good old Zechariah putting his foot in his mouth. Zechariah asked the angel, but how can this be and her advanced years or as the Greek could be paraphrased? But how can this be my wife already has one foot in the grave. Now, both women, one advanced in yours, Elizabeth and one a young teenager Mary, one yearning for a baby Elizabeth and one unsure she’s even ready for such a responsibility. Mary. Bless it is she who believed God would fulfill his promises to her, God’s promises to her. They are deeply personal. Bless it, is she? Joy is starting to take root in Mary, because God’s promises are being fulfilled. And suddenly Mary is overwhelmed with joy, joy and bursting from her deep within her comes out of her as a song. No, we know as the Magnificat. She sings my soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me bless ID. For the Mighty One has done great things for me. God’s promises are for me. Joy is felt when Mary realizes God’s promises are not to just for all, but also deeply personal they are for her. God’s promises are personal. And while joy is real, and felt it doesn’t erase all of the decades Elizabeth longed for a baby. The joy of motherhood will grow up alongside the discomfort of the scars left by her deep wounds from years of being barren. And Mary She still is facing the possibility of the death penalty at worst store life as an ostracized woman who got pregnant out of wedlock, at best.

So there’s this ongoing cost to both Elizabeth and Mary’s joy that neither woman will ever be able to come pletely outrun, real joy and real sorrow growing side by side. Now, if you keep reading through the birth story after Jesus is born to when he’s about 40 days old religious tradition dictated that Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the temple. There at the temple they encounter this elderly, devout man named Simeon and Simeon comes along and takes the baby out of Mary’s arms, and as a smile breaks out across his weathered wrinkly face, he launches into another song, a song that is filled with scriptural language referring to Jesus as salvation and a light for revelation and you can almost feel the pride oozing off Mary and Joseph as they hear what is being said about their precious son. But then at the end of the song, this man Simeon says something cryptic, something that would make any parent shudder and tighten their hold on their child. He says, this child is destined to cause the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed and marry a sword will pierce your own soul to now, most people congratulate new parents showering them with slaps on the back diapers and broke claws and toys but here is the congratulation that simians dropped Simeon drops on the new mom. This child will be an indescribable blessing to you the hope of the world and his life will pierce your very soul Mary. Now for much of church history, Simeon song has been chanted and sung during evening prayer services and churches around the world it is it was known as the new Dimittis. In fact, many composers set this text, the text that Simeon sings to music, coupling it’s sorrowful, sorrowful words with Mary’s song that we heard earlier that Mary song of joy, the Magnificat. It it’s been a way, a treasured way of saying, you know, this is joy, but it’s always Joy growing in the midst of pain. And the old man was right, Simeon was right, because being chosen as the mother of God also meant being chosen as a mother who watches her son die. The Parental nightmare. That’s what the favor of God was handing to this teenage girl. Bless it are you who is highly favored Mary, but you know what that includes that your body will break open to bring him into the world. You are going to nurse this baby chair at his first steps. Hang up his artwork on your refrigerator, wipe his nose cry on his first day of kindergarten, pack his lunches, hand him his car keys with your hand shaking on his 16th birthday. burst with pride as he graduates from high school gets his first job and then and then marry guess what you’re going to stand at the foot of his cross on an eerily dark day while he is nailed down and publicly executed to the cheering of crowds and public shame. highly favored meant all of that together. Being chosen the mother of Jesus meant joy, deep joy at this child in this, this teenager and this young adult and it meant pain, deep pain, intertwined. Once a year I get to teach a Nami Family to Family Class. Nami stands for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Family to Family is the class for those who live with and or love someone with severe mental illness. Many of those who participate in class are parents of older children living with such illnesses as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, severe depression, eating disorders and addiction. It’s a terrifying thing to watch the child you once knew as bubbly and exuberant and full of life, shrivel into a disease that wants nothing more than to convince them they are not worthy to continue living or to go to their room and timidly knock on their door wondering if today is the day. They don’t answer. To go to bed at night wondering if tonight is the night the police will call same. Their baby is in jail. Or worse. These parents they love their kids with their whole entire pain. And they felt inexpressible joy at holding the hands of their children and watching them grow and being called mom, or dad. These parents know terrible pain and sorrow to fear as they walk alongside their kids in the struggle for their very lives, that each one of them, each one of these parents that attend this family to family class, they still hope, they still hope they still have some joy left within them. Because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be in that class. They have hope that their joy at knowing this beautiful child, and their pain and fear at the disease that this child lives with, can co exist, that joy and pain are inseparable. And while perhaps you may have no idea what it feels like to be one of those parents, you know, Mary knows, Mary eventually watches her son die. But her story doesn’t end at the cross. If you look closely, you keep reading in the Bible, and you get to the book of Acts. And you look in that first chapter of Acts. And you really have to look hard because it’s just there to small little part. But you’ll see that Mary is there. Mary’s in that first chapter that Mary stayed and traveled with the disciples after Jesus died. And on the first or on the day of Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and all that were gathered with them. She was there. She was there helping to start the first church. Mary who wasn’t over the sorrow of losing her son, her pain was so very real. But so was her joy. Joy looks like a mother who believes even the worst thing it’s not the hand. Joy is a mother who hopes even when it is absurd to do so. I don’t know your pain, and I have no idea what it feels like to be you to live in this world and on this day, feeling what you feel. But we have a God who does a God who knows you and as for you and as with you. And whatever pain you are feeling, however deep it goes. This God promises. That is not the end of your story. joy and pain together. Amen.

Related Ministries:

Online and Television Services, A Spacious Christianity
The special beauty about a virtual service? You can sing as loud as you want without care or worry. God loves a joyous worship - anywhere you are, at home…