Sunday, December 23, 2018

Sermon: Jump for Joy!

Image on Pixabay from Creative Commons

Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year C

The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse,

Director of the Whitaker Institute,

Episcopal Diocese of Michigan

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Detroit, MI

Sermon Preached on December 23, 2018

May the words of my mouth and

the meditation of all our hearts

be acceptable in your sight,

O Lord our strength and our redeemer.

Did you hear that? The child leaped for joy!

When I was growing up,

with five siblings, my momma used to say,

“You kids go outside and play!”  

Sometimes we would

go out to the edge of

the canyon behind our house and yell –

listening for the echo back to us. 

Oh, we laughed, screamed, and giggled.

My mother would have none of this at home. 

Once we got back, we held our tongue.

We were taught not to be too revealing. 

We were courteous. We were quiet. 

It was not okay to be overtly

expressive in our joy or laughter.

So when I read about

Elizabeth’s child leaping for joy

at the sound of Mary’s greeting,

it made me a little uncomfortable

due to my complicated relationship

with expressed joy.

Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and

she blessed Mary with a loud cry.

Such uncontained extroverted outward expression! 

These days, living in Detroit,

my neighbors yell at me from three houses down the street,

“HEY” they wave,


I want to say back, hey, get a hold of yourselves! 

My neighbors… they are filled with the Holy Spirit

and exclaim their greetings with exposed joy –

and that seems so irreverent

in a world today where so much seems to be going wrong.

Who can be joyful when

·        layoffs have been announced at D-Ham, the Hamtramck GM plant and

·        government workers wonder if they will be paid by their employer and

·        refugees from many countries arrive at borders only to be terrorized as they are seeking asylum and

·        climate change threatens more flooding and more record-breaking weather events like the tsunami in Indonesia

Who can be joyful in all this mess?

The thing is, however,

joy never really has to do with

outward appearances. 

That’s what makes joy different from

happiness, or fun, or pleasure.

Joy does not depend on conditions. 

The only condition for joy[1]

“…is the presence of God.

Joy happens when God is present,

and people know it,

which means that joy can erupt”

in a divided political environment,

in a blighted neighborhood,

in someone’s home while delivering water.

See, Mary’s joy erupted the minute she saw Elizabeth. 

She barely had enough time to take off her coat,

covering her new baby bump. 

We don’t know what Mary expected,

but Elizabeth’s jovial response and blessing

is what Mary got. 

And that scream, laughter and giggle inspired Mary.

Mary, who broke out in song.

And, I like to think, she surprised herself. 

Mary’s recitation of the song of Hannah

from 1st Samuel in the Hebrew Scriptures

(which Mary of course knew)…

Mary’s recitation

was a hip-hop praise of God’s liberation,

a praise to the God

who turns the world upside down,

who grants favor to someone as low as herself, a nobody from nowhere, and

who brings down the high and mighty,

who lifts up the lowly,

who fills up the hungry and

who sends the rich away.

This spontaneous song of Mary’s,

the “Magnificat” is one of the earliest

and most enduring hymns of The Church.

That surprising joy erupts when God is present,

doing what God does,

and people –

like Elizabeth, like Mary, like my neighbors in Detroit –

“…cannot contain themselves.

They sing and dance, they jump for joy,

they open their mouths and poetry falls out.”

That surprising joy is the surest sign of God’s presence

that cannot be contained.

That surprising joy means that my heart leaps

when I see my neighbors

and yell, - with abandon -

for them to HAVE A BLESSED DAY too.

In these joy moments, our souls magnify God. 

Why don’t we express joy more often? 

Perhaps because the wounds of the world

seem so overwhelming.

Perhaps because we don’t know

how to break through the political stalemate.

Perhaps because we fear the consequences

of speaking truth to power.

Perhaps because discipleship is inconvenient.

Perhaps because joy is

sometimes hidden in the struggle of disruption,

sometimes caught between the false dichotomy

of despair and optimism.[2]

Like the experience of

15-year-old Swedish high-schooler, Greta Thunberg.[3]

Greta, a climate activist,

addressed the UN plenary session last week

on behalf of Climate Justice Now!

in Katowice Poland. 

In her short speech,

she named with Spirit’s power and clarity,

a conviction that can sound like despair

but is grounded something bigger –

in her love of the earth

and her care for generations to come.

Greta said,

“…Until you start focusing on

what needs to be done,

rather than what is politically possible,

there is no hope.

… And if solutions within the system

are so impossible to find,

then maybe

we should change the system itself.

We [youth] have not come here

to beg world leaders to care.

You have ignored us in the past,

and you will ignore us again.

We have run out of excuses,

and we are running out of time.

We have come here to let you know

that change is coming,

whether you like it or not.

The real power belongs to the people…”

Even in this somber truth-naming speech,

captured in a viral YouTube video,

her surprising joy of possibility comes through. 

Through her voice,

inspired by youth from Parkland, Florida

after their school shooting,

she passes on inspiration to others.

Through her voice,

we can glean the poetic pointing towards

“…another way, a way of hope

where circumstances that are dark or difficult

require us to look

beyond ourselves for rescue and relief

so that we might hear again and anew

God’s promise to hold onto us through it all.”[4]

I believe that this kind of joy-through-struggle

is grounded in the Mighty One

who does great things and whose name is holy.

This kind of joy-through-struggle

cannot be contained


God is the only one who can bring life out of death.

God is the one who can

turn the world upside-down

in partnership with humanity.


St. Peter’s, your soul magnifies God’s presence,

in the myriad ways you partner with God

in compassion and justice work:

Care for the earth through recycling and solar panels

Compassion for people

who are hungry through manna meal service

Companionship for people who are lonely through

Sunday gatherings of prayer and the breaking of bread

Charism of justice and dignity for all,

through direct action and voluntary arrest.

Your soul, St. Peter’s, magnifies God. 

The only question is

what is being birthed now

through this joyful leaping presence in your womb? 

What can happen

through this loving, liberating, life-giving God,

with your hope and blessing?

See, God imagines a world

of mercy, love and forgiveness

for all generations.

Working together with the joy of God in our hearts,

we can invite others along the way.

We can take risks and

proclaim out loud the

uncomfortable disruption that Jesus is birthing

here, now. 

We can rejoice in God our savior.

For God Loves you so much, and

God’s mercy and forgiveness offers joy and liberation

for all people, from generation to generation,

according to the promise God made to our ancestors,

to Abraham and Sarah, and their descendants forever.

And that is enough to make you jump for joy!


[1] Portions inspired by Barbara Brown Taylor, “Surprised by Joy,” The Living Pulpit, October-December 1996, pages 16-17

[2] Inspired by David Lose, “Singing as an Act of Resistance,” cited here on December 18, 2018

[3] Story cited here, here, and here on December 19, 2018

[4] Lose, Ibid.