Luke 1:26-38, 46-55
(Quoted Scripture is New International Version Study Bible)
My favorite cartoon to watch every Christmas is How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Words by Dr. Seuss, narrated by Boris Karloff.
Remember the story? It opens with the ‘Whos” in Whoville singing ‘Fah who for-aze, Dah who dor-aze, Welcome Christmas, Welcome Christmas bring your light, Christmas Day is in our grasp, as long as we have hands to clasp.’ Then it cuts to the Grinch on his mountain above Whoville, who despises Christmas and all the joy it brings. Boris Karloff tells us maybe it’s because his shoes are too tight, but he really thinks it’s because his heart is too small.
The Grinch devises a plan to steal the “Whos” Christmas, and he makes a Santa hat and suit, ties an antler to his little dog, packs a sleigh with empty bags and goes down the mountain. He steals the “Whos” presents, their Christmas feast food, the Christmas trees, and even the log for their fire.
He drives his Christmas loot up the mountain and waits to hear the “Whos” crying ‘Boo Hoo! What he hears instead is the “Whos” singing, ‘Fah who for-aze, Dah who dor-aze, Welcome Christmas, Welcome Christmas, while we stand, heart to heart and hand to hand.’
The Grinch can’t believe his ears! Boris Karloff says that in that moment the Grinch’s heart grew 3 sizes and he figures out that maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas is a little bit more.’ The Grinch returns the “Whos” presents, their Christmas feast food, the Christmas trees, the logs for their fire and the Grinch sits down to celebrate Christmas with the “Whos”, even cutting and serving the Christmas roast beast.
What the “Whos” have in their hearts is the Deep Down Abiding Joy of Christmas. Something no Grinch could steal.
Life is full of Grinches threatening to steal the Deep Down Abiding Joy of Christmas. Poor health, ours or someone we love; the stress of how to manage buying presents for everyone and still pay our bills; the sadness of remembering Christmases past with loved ones who have died; the stress of the busyness of this time of year, and other circumstances we may find ourselves in that threaten to steal our joy.
One weary young mother, who had hauled her two young children with her to do Christmas shopping, entered a crowded elevator. As the elevator door closed, she said out loud, “Whoever started this Christmas stuff should be killed.” She had let all the busyness of Christmas steal her joy. A voice came from the back of the elevator, “He was, they crucified Him.” You could have heard a pin drop as the elevator moved.
In today’s scripture from the Gospel of Luke, we find another young woman, who could have chosen anguish, despair, even hopelessness, when she found herself in a situation not of her own making. She could have chosen to react in a way that would steal her joy. Mary, who we believe was about 14 years of age, was betrothed to Joseph an older man. As an expectant bride she was probably excited about the wedding, making joyful plans, anticipating raising children and being cared for by her husband. Scholars think Mary was from a poor family, and marrying Joseph would mean a good future for her.
Then it happens, “In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”
Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.
“Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High.
Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month.” (vv.26-36)
Mary then hurries to see if what the angel told her was true. She travels to her cousin Elizabeth and finds her just as the angel said. Elizabeth was pregnant with John the Baptist, whom she had conceived well past her childbearing years. When she arrives, Elizabeth greets her with, “God has blessed you above all women and your child is blessed. Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.” (vv.42-45)
See what’s happening? Mary’s first reaction to the angel’s message was fear and ‘how could this be?’ Her second reaction was to visit her cousin to verify what the angel said was true. Finally, as Elizabeth greets her with ‘the mother of my Lord visits me,’ Mary knows deep down abiding joy!
That deep down abiding joy will be tested again and again: As she gives birth to Jesus in a cattle stall in Bethlehem, as she spends three heart sick days wondering where her lost twelve-year old son is, and as she watches her son Jesus arrested, tortured, and crucified. But before any of Jesus’ life happens, in just this moment, as Mary realizes the truth, that she has become pregnant through the Holy Spirit of God, she breaks into a Song of Praise.
“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One is holy and he has done great things for me.” (vv.46-49)
What Mary is experiencing in this moment is the Deep Down Abiding Joy of knowing who her baby Jesus is, the Son of the Most High God; and who she is as a beloved child of God. This Deep Down Abiding Joy will carry her through the birth, life, death and resurrection of her son. Some scholars think, that although scripture does not say that Jesus appeared to Mary after his resurrection, the reason Mary was not with the group of women who went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, was because Jesus appeared to His mother first. A loving son would do that, don’t you think? I think so.
You and I have choices in our life. When we find ourselves in life’s circumstances that threaten to steal our joy, we can choose to react with anguish, despair, even hopelessness; or we can choose to react with the joy of knowing who Jesus is, the Son of God, God with us, Emmanuel; and the joy of knowing who we are; a beloved child of God.
Don’t let the Grinch steal your Christmas. Choose to welcome Christmas as the “Whos” did. ‘Welcome Christmas while we stand, heart to heart and hand to hand.’
Get connected to Jesus heart to heart and to the people He puts into your life. Take the hand of Jesus when you find yourself threatened by those Grinch situations, and take the hands offered to you by your friends and family. Choose Jesus, Deep Down Abiding Joy; this Christmas and for the rest of your life.
Pastor Rosemary DeHut