Friday, December 7, 2018

Filled with Joy

As we finish talking about anticipation and the characters in the Gospel story whose lives were changed by news of the coming Christ and their earnest belief thereof, we have to talk about John, the Baptist (although at that point, he was merely known as the-baby-to-be-named-John). 

It seems a little strange, talking about what a baby in a womb knew about another baby in a womb, as if there was any way to know or anything to be known, but there is a captivating exchange between these two unborn babes, and once again, it is Luke who gives us the details.

When Elizabeth was pretty far along in her pregnancy and Mary, only barely, the younger woman came to visit the older woman for awhile. Upon coming into one another's presence, Elizabeth let out a delighted start. She turns to Mary and tells her, "How blessed are you! When you and your blessed womb came into this room, my own little bundle leapt for joy within me." 

You can probably imagine, there's not a lot of room in the womb for leaping. 

But John did it anyway. He leapt with joy when the spirit of the Lord drew close in human form, although neither had a visible human form at the time and neither could have actually touched the other's flesh. 

I picture a cat trying to get out of a paper bag, except his movements are elicited by sheer joy. John is absolutely bursting with joy, and the space that he is in can hardly contain him. He leaps with such force of elation that Elizabeth's entire body moves, and that delighted start that she let out? Well, she can't help it - his joy is contagious. 

We get so wrapped up in Christmas, so busy tending to boxes and bows and cards and cookies and ornaments hanging on the tree that we don't leave a lot of room for the joy of the season. How could we? We're too busy to be joyful. We're too worried about pulling it all together to truly enjoy it. We're too into bringing Christmas into the world that we don't let Christmas any more bring us out of it, even for a season.

And it's become such a physical thing. Such a tangible thing, this Christmas. It's all the things we can see and smell and touch and hold and taste and give and take and share in selfies and posts on Instagram. Christmas is trees and presents and mistletoe and wreaths and toys and puppies and, if we're lucky, a few quiet seconds where we can hear the yule log crackling. 

John didn't have any of this. He couldn't have seen Christmas if he tried. There was no room for him to set up a tree or even hang a stocking, no toys for him to unwrap, no fruit cake for him to eat. John had none of it, absolutely none of it. All he had was the spirit - the spirit of Christ, yet unborn, coming into the room. The spirit of Christ pulling on his own soul while his flesh, too, still formed. 

Yet he leapt for joy, in a space too small even for leaping. He filled that womb, already brimming with life, with joy. So much joy that even his mother felt it. And she didn't tell Mary, "I just felt my baby move." No, she declared, "I have felt my baby's joy!" What an overflow!

As we embrace our anticipation for Christmas this Advent, let us be like John. Let us not neglect, as we set up our trees and hang our stockings and bake our cookies, to fill our little spaces with overwhelming joy, so much joy that our little homes cannot contain it. 

And let us remember, as well, that although it comes with plenty to look at, plenty to listen to, plenty to taste and touch and hold and experience, that Christmas is not a physical season, though it comes to us in the flesh; Christmas is a spiritual reality. What we are waiting on is not a baby, but a Spirit, that is coming to us in swaddling clothes. Let us sense the spirit of Jesus around us. 

Let us leap for joy. 

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