“When We Sing, We Sing for Joy” December 15, 2019
“When We Sing, We Sing for Joy”
Isaiah 35:1-10/ James 5:7-10
Quite a few years ago, I worked running equipment for a guy named Oly – Oly Ostrom. Now Oly was one of those people that could have done well in any line of work: he was athletic, he was smart, and he could get along with just about anyone. But Oly was kind of a wild man, and so a career of working in the woods was right up his alley. Now Oly was about everything you would expect from a logger. He was loud and could be crude at times; he drank hard, worked hard, and lived hard. And he loved every minute of it. But you know, the moment you think you might have someone figured out, they’ll surprise you every time. We took a private sale on a ranch 100+ miles from home, and that meant we had to stay in a local motel during the week and wouldn’t you know, but I got elected to share a room with the boss. I didn’t really know the guy that well, so I assumed that this was going to be awkward – it was just a question of how. I didn’t have to wait long to find out. On the first day getting things set up, he asked me out of the blue, “Do you like musicals?” I wasn’t ready for that, but I figured maybe honesty might be the best plan this early in the game and so I answered, “Yes. Actually, I do. In fact, I have even sang in a few at our local theater.”
“Good,” he said, and the next Monday he showed up with a VCR player and a stack of VHS tapes of every musical known to man. And that’s how it went: after a day of wrestling big ugly yellow pine amidst the cactus and rattlesnakes, we sometimes spent our leisure hours watching everything from “7 Brides for 7 Brothers” to “The Music Man.” And Oly knew all the songs by heart. I could tell because he sang along at the top of his voice. I had to ask him later, what was it that he liked about musicals? Most folks thought it kind of silly to be watching a movie when all of a sudden someone breaks out in song. “That’s it!” he said. “That’s the best part. I wish that real life was that way.” Like I said, people will surprise you every time. We finally finished that sale. It was a rough one, and I don’t believe a whole lot of money was made, but I did walk away with a simple truth. I could sum it up by saying that when you’re happy, you sing and when you’re singing, you’re happy.
Which brings us, in a round-about way, to our readings for this, the 3rd Sunday of Advent. The 3rd Sunday in the season of Advent is ….well, special. It is sometimes called “Shepherd’s Sunday” but
most commonly it is known as “Gaudete Sunday.” Gaudete: it’s a Latin word, and the simple translation for this Latin word “Gaudete” is joy… that’s it. Rejoice with great joy – that pretty much sums up the traditions that bring us this Gaudete celebration. Because pink is the liturgical color for joy, a pink candle is lit on this day. Priests bring out their pink vestments, and some churches go all out and decorate special for this one particular day. But the greatest tradition of all for Gaudete Sunday is the reading of Mary’s visit to her cousin, Elizabeth which ends with what is called “Mary’s Song of Praise: the Magnificat.”
If any story can exude pure, raw, and unaltered joy, this would be it. Think about it: Elizabeth, who is childless, finds herself pregnant at an age when such things aren’t supposed to happen. She is beside herself with joy. It’s about that time when her cousin Mary shows up for a visit and announces that she too is with child. Add to that the fact that Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, cannot speak. The Lord had taken his voice because of his disbelief that in the promise of this child. He can’t speak to be the voice of reason; he can’t speak to cast doubts; he can’t speak make this moment anything less than spectacular. So there you have it; two crazy promises. One to Zechariah and Elizabeth that their child would be a prophet who will prepare the way for the Messiah; and the second to Mary that this virgin would bear a child that was the son of God. Both highly unlikely, improbable, impossible even. Yet, here it was: the promises were coming true and these two women could not contain themselves.
Luke gives us no indication that Elizabeth burst into song the instant that Mary walked into the room. But we can sense her excitement and we can feel her joy. There is music in her words to the mother of God. (Lk 1:41) And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Blessed is she who believed. Blessed is she who believed that God would come to us – would come to us in the flesh – to sow us the way of salvation, to show us the way of redemption, to show us a love that is beyond understanding. And you know what- we’ve been singing about it ever since.
Last Thursday, I missed a few phone calls from Nancy McCann who is on the music team at 1st Baptist in Mac. When I finally called her back, the voice that answered was someone I didn’t know. It was low and it was rough, but it was Nancy and she was very sick. “What can I do for you?” I asked. “I need a favor,” said. “You can say no, but I have to ask.” Now, I knew that Nancy had been a nurse at the Cancer Center in Mac for over 20 years before she retired and I knew that they had a big Christmas party every year, but I didn’t know that it was Nancy who made that party happen. The staff knocked themselves out decorating and putting out tables of food, but most folks there knew that the highlight of the party would be singing Christmas carols at the end. “Do you think you could do that?” she said. “I have all the songs for you and have printed up song sheets for everyone else. O, and by the way, there will be an Elvis impersonator who will get up to sing ‘Blue Christmas.’ Think you could do that?” How could I say no? So with Nancy’s husband Bob on percussion and various staff members on jingle bells, we had some moments of genuine joy in the lobby of the Hoover Cancer Center at the Willamette hospital.
One more story before I close. At the party, there was one woman in particular that comes to mind. It seems like every time I called out for a song request, she was ready. I was getting worried that she would dominate the whole carol singing thing, but no one seemed to mind. She was enjoying herself too much for anyone to care. What got me was when I struck up a conversation – asked if she was having a good time or something like that. She smiled and said that this was great and that she looked forward to coming to this party every year. And then with an even bigger grin, she said with a loud voice, “I’m a cancer survivor!” And there it was: the source of her joy. That’s something to sing about.
(Lk 1:46) My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked upon the estate of his humble servant. May this song of praise remind us again of the true source of our joy. It is the coming of the Lord. Come, Jesus, come.
Amen & Shalom