An Advent Family Reunion: Elizabeth’s Joy
The Third Sunday of Advent
First Baptist Church Laurens
Among the enjoyable parts of the Christmas season are the television specials, movies and Christmas themed books that so many of us look forward to indulging in during these days. Rankin & Smith’s Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, It’s A Wonderful Life, The Charlie Brown Christmas Special, The Polar Express, White Christmas, Elf, John Grisham’s Skipping Christmas and David Baldacci’s The Christmas Train are just a few of the seasonal favorites that many of us will enjoy this December.
One of the TV specials that our family has really come to like in recent years is a little thirty minute Disney special called Prep & Landing that first aired about seven or eight years ago. If you have seen it, then you know that it is the story of a group of Santa’s elves. They are basically an advance team for Santa. As the title suggests, their job is to prepare children’s homes so that everything is ready when Santa makes his landings on Christmas Eve.
Among the workers on the Prep & Landing team, is a 224 year old elf named Wayne – I know, you would think old’ Wayne would have retired by now!?! Wayne is frustrated because he has been passed over for a promotion and doesn’t see himself as important. In turn, at least in part, the Prep & Landing story is about Wayne’s rediscovering that while he isn’t the main player, as Santa is, his job of readying houses for the Big Man in the Red Suit is still a very critical part of what happens on Christmas Eve.
Without question, like Wayne in this children’s story, there are a number of secondary figures in the Christmas story as told in Matthew and Luke. They are not in the spotlight as are Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus. But, they are critical to what God was doing. Further, they are not only crucial to what happened that night in Bethlehem, but, their lives also offer significant lessons and insights in their own right too.
One of these secondary figures is Elizabeth, the wife of Zechariah. Elizabeth plays a prominent role in Luke’s telling of the story. She and Zechariah were the parents of John the Baptist. Like, Joseph and Mary, they were surprised that they would soon give birth to a son. Their surprise came in having a child in their old age when they were well beyond child bearing years as opposed to Joseph and Mary who were surprised to have a child on the way at a very early point in life.
Likewise, Elizabeth and Mary were somehow related. And, it was in the home of Elizabeth and Zechariah, where Mary found shelter and support during a large portion of her own pregnancy.
Along the way, through trying circumstances and while living in the midst of her own very unexpected times, Elizabeth comes across in Luke as a person of calm, wisdom and contentment. She appears to display what the Bible would classify as Joy.
As we have said several times before, the Biblical idea of joy is not the same as our idea of happiness. No, joy is born out of the ability to be have a settledness – a settledness about how God is using us and how God is choosing to work in the world. Joy is not about always being happy, peppy, putting on a fake smile when we don’t want to, or chasing after success. Rather, it is a resolve to follow God and to trust in God that leads to an unusual contentment, and again, a settleness particularly in the face of what are less than perfect situations in life.
On this Third Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Joy, here are the ways that I see Elizabeth exhibiting this settledness and thus the ways that she teaches us about finding it too.
First, Elizabeth found settledness in the belief that the small aspects of every day life are the big matters of the Kingdom of God. One of the biggest things that Elizabeth did for Mary was in many ways a very small thing. At a time when Mary was pregnant and before she and Joseph had married, Elizabeth opened her home to Mary. This likely also came at a time when lots of folks were talking behind Mary’s back and suspicious of what had “really” happened to her.
In this moment, Elizabeth did the very simple thing of being hospitable. She gave Mary shelter, shared meals with her and offered a listening ear for Mary in the midst of her questions and changing emotions. Like no one else, she also simply identified with Mary’s situation because in a number of ways it was similar to her own. Now, again, none of these were big things. But they mattered. They were important and they were a huge help to Mary at a very difficult time. Somehow, doing this also appeared to help Elizabeth. Again, she seems at peace and settled in this role. She didn’t dismiss it as unimportant but seemed to appreciate the value that it offered. She didn’t have to be about major tasks, instead she found meaning in daily obedience.
Last week, I ran into an old friend who mentioned to me another person that we both knew. My old friend was bragging on this other gentleman as someone who really seemed to have come into his own. He talked about how this gentleman had gotten involved in a project to fixed up bicycles for children at the holidays. Almost every Sunday this fellow now pulls a trailer to church so that others can easily drop off a bike that they don’t need anymore at any time. It is very basic stuff – driving a trailer, fixing bikes, sharing them with children. He is not the CEO of a Bicycle Corporation. Instead, he collects and fixes up old bikes and gives them away. Yet, this has helped him to find his place, to feel content, to feel settled, to find joy.
We chase after significance to find happiness. But Elizabeth reminds us that joy is often found in the little things that we already do or that we can do that can help to bring us meaning, contentment, joy and a settledness about life. What is the small thing that you are doing or can do that while small is a big thing for the kingdom of God?
Second, Elizabeth found settledness while celebrating the triumphs of others and seeing them as just as meaningful as her own. This is a huge characteristic of Elizabeth that a lot of us would do well to take to heart. Rather than sulking about what God was doing in Mary, Elizabeth celebrated what was happening and encouraged Mary like no one else. In many ways, at least for a season, Elizabeth was Mary’s biggest cheerleader and supporter. She found joy in Mary’s joy. She actually found contentment in another’s moment at the center of God’s work.
I remember an experience from my childhood when I think about this. My mom worked for a large employer who threw an elaborate party at Christmastime for the children of its employees. One particular year, I remember that they rented out a skating rink (you remember those don’t you?) and provided great food and fun. The highlight of the afternoon was a time when they had a drawing for some incredible prizes – things that would have been at the very top of any child’s Christmas list. What I also remember is that I had gone to the party with one of my closest friends from school. His mom and dad worked for the same company. When it came time for the drawing, my friend’s name was picked. I still remember his joy and excitement. He won a huge stocking about seven or eight feet tall as I recall that was full of all types of toys, games and other items. What I also remember is how I responded. At first, I was just as excited as he was. But, the more that moment sunk in, the more my lip began to quiver, the madder I got, and then I began to cry. I could not be happy for him because I was too upset about it not happening to me.
A lot of us are being robbed of joy for the same reason. We feel like being happy means winning. We have been raised to believe that our success is the only thing that leads to our joy. But, Elizabeth was able to celebrate someone else and to find joy in being a part of what God was doing through the life of another. In supporting Mary, she found contentment, settledness and again I say it – joy. How much better our lives would be if we could become more like Elizabeth in this point.
Finally, Elizabeth found settledness through obedience rather than trying to playing it safe. I make this statement based on what we read in our text and based on what happens later in Luke 1. First, Elizabeth obediently welcomed Mary, who again likely had a bad reputation at the time. Later, Elizabeth and Zechariah name their child John when tradition said that you named your first born boy after the father. Why the unusual name? Because the angel had told them to name the child John.
Being obedient brought joy and it will do the same for us. After all, one of the things that brings huge anxiety to us is when we choose between doing what is popular and culturally acceptable and doing what God asks us to do. So often, we choose to please others which robs us of a peace mind. The truth of Elizabeth is that while it might be more difficult, obedience is that which brings joy, contentment, peace and I’ll say it again – a settledness to life.
Some of our men have just finished reading a book together called Get Real. The book ends with a great story about a guy interviewing for a job. The interview was to take place over the phone with a boss located in another part of the country. At the last moment, the man trying to get the job takes a risk, travels across the country and dares to show up unannounced so that he can do the interview in person rather than over the phone. In essence, the point of the story was that the risk was worth the possible reward. That is what I am saying and what I think Elizabeth is saying here. The risk of obedience in terms of what others might think is far worth the reward of finding joy.
Do you yearn for joy, contentment a settledness? Which of these characteristics of Elizabeth do you need to adopt in order to find it? Amen.