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Monday, December 01, 2008

Virtual Advent Retreat, Session 2

Disturbed By Joy~~a Reflection on Advent 3B, Luke 1:47-55

"And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever." (Luke 1:47-55, NRSV)

One Christmas I got a package in the mail from a faraway friend. In it were three refrigerator magnets and a homemade CD of some of her favorite songs. The second cut on the CD was “Joy to the World,” not the carol, but the song by Three Dog Night. It just happens to be true that the first record album I ever bought for myself was purchased at a yard sale for 25 cents, and although it had a torn dust cover, it also had that song. I played it over and over again. It made me happy. “Jeremiah was a bullfrog/was a good friend of mine./I never understood a single word he said”—and I still don’t understand it! But it is full of what I used to think was joy.

Because we think of joy as a kind of exceptional happiness, don’t we? It is the state of happiness produced by getting what we want. It is rowdy and noisy and celebratory.

My friend printed out a list of the songs on the CD for me, and after “Joy to the World” it says, “Sing along! You know you want to!”

And she is correct. I want to sing along! I want to have that bright, shining feeling of joy that we associate with Christmas. But I also feel constrained by thoughts of the dead in Mumbai and the people recovering from Hurricane Ike who have been all but forgotten by the media and the people serving our military in harm’s way and the people who live with war outside their doors every single day. And I feel constrained by thinking of people closer to home for whom this may not be a Merry or Joyful Christmas because they are grieving or ill or simply worried about what this bad economy will mean not just for Christmas but for every day this winter.

There must be more to a Christian’s joy than happiness about things we have achieved. There must be more to a Christian’s joy than trumpets and drums and partridges in pear trees.

Mary said:
With all my heart

I praise the Lord,

and I am glad

because of God my Savior.

He cares for me,

his humble
From now on,
all people will say
God has blessed me.

God All-Powerful has done

great things for me,

and his name is holy.

(Luke 1:46-49, The Message)

She was a very young woman, barely more than a girl. Getting pregnant before getting married was the worst thing that could have happened to her. In fact, she didn’t quite know what to do with the news. Probably she worried about telling her mother and father. Certainly she worried about how Joseph, the man she was pledged to marry, would react to the revelation.

I think it’s likely that every woman who has received the news she will have a baby has been disturbed at least a little. Even the most wanted pregnancy will change the lives of the parents; even the most wanted child breaks forth from the mother in a way that means nothing will ever be quite the same again.

Having a child is a disturbing joy.

In her song, Mary speaks words about God’s plan to turn things upside down and inside out, to make the world a markedly different place.

The Lord has used
his powerful arm

to scatter those

who are proud.

He drags strong rulers
from their thrones
and puts humble people

in places of power.
God gives the hungry
good things to eat,
and sends the rich away

with nothing.

(Luke 1:51-53, The Message)

When I read such words, I want to say, “Yes, Lord, do that. Joy to the World! All the boys and girls! Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea. Joy to you and me!”

I suspect a lot of us are feeling like that right now. It’s good to think of God lifting up the needy and giving a little smackdown to those who are on the “up” side of life—as long as we don’t count ourselves among the comfortable.

How often do we really want God to shake up the world? Are we prepared to be scattered?

God’s scattering and shaking brings about joy, but it is a joy that disturbs the status quo.

For many people in the world, having Mary’s words come to pass would look just as devastating. For many people in the world, it may feel they have this fall. A slideshow on a news website showed pictures of grown men crying on the trading floors of stock markets all around the world. How many days did people watch the stock ticker and feel scattered as the “bottom” dropped further and further? How will banks convince us our money is safe and stores convince us to shop? How will we perpetuate the life to which we have grown accustomed?

But perhaps being scattered and disturbed means leaving those assumed comforts behind. God’s joyful world to come is not about malls and sales or success and victory. God’s joyful world to come will disturb us, as surely as a baby’s cry wakes us in the night and demands our attention.

For Reflection
1. What demands your attention in this Advent season?
2. What in your life needs to be scattered by God's arm?
3. What brings you joy?

For Prayer
Scattering God, disturb us with your joy that we might share it with others in this Advent season. Remind us of the courage of a young woman who said "yes" to you, a young woman who understood the way you desired to change the world. Help us to be agents of that change, we ask in the name of the one for whom we wait, Jesus Christ. Amen.

We hope the reflections on this retreat day will enrich your Advent experience. You may write your thoughts here in the comments, or if you write something on your own blog, leave a comment (with a link if you can) inviting us to visit you. Or, if it suits you better, keep these words in your heart, and we will trust that God works in many ways in all of us.


  1. Songbird, I love that first painting - I've never seen it.

    May your day of discernment be filled with opening eyes and doors.

  2. wonderful, and like Gannet girl I too love that painting.

  3. I posted a response over at my blog for both sessions 1 and 2, but I can't remember how to link! below is my URL. Thanks for doing this!

  4. Scattering seems like the very opposite of what I'd hope god would do! Instead iwant god to make it all smooth, clean and clear. Maybe I will try a new prayer "scatter me O God!" and see where that takes me.

  5. "Scatter" let me to a scatterplot motif...

    Me, the un-math person. How funny.

    Thanks, Songbird... I loved your choice of art!


  6. scattered... oh my brain is. my desk is. my closet is... but uhmm i think scattering our fear is the best thing... the thing.

  7. Somewhere I remember learning that the ancients believed there was only so much stuff/wealth in the world and if one person had a lot, it meant that someone else didn't have enough. I remember that when we sing Mary's song. It seems to me the point is not a reversal of roles - poor become rich, rich lose everything - but an leveling out of those mountains of wealth into the valleys of derth (sp?).
    Because Advent coincides with Christmas preparations (fancy that!), this is the time of year I think most of giving to my favorite charitable organizations. It's an opportunity to help level the mountains for even if I think my mountain is more like a molehill, it's still a mountain to someone who doesn't have enough to eat or a good home to sleep in.
    Thank you all for this retreat!

  8. Thanks Songbird: this is so lovely.

    I'm still pondering the questions. They strike pretty close to home.

  9. Thank you Songbird. Your reflection led me down a music can find it here.

  10. Thank you my friend...I'm working with the idea of a "disturbing joy" and wondering what things I might resist that are really part of an invitation to something wonderful.
    This virtual retreat is a rich and wonderful thing, as the responses prompt further reflections.
    Bless you for thinking of it xxx

  11. Thank you, Gannet! It was, it was.
    Juniper, be careful what you pray for...
    Thank you all for your responses.

  12. Much of questions 1 & 2 came out in my thoughts for the first session, but a quick thought about what brings me joy (definitely influenced by the reflections of others on session 1) has been posted.

    Session 3 tomorrow morning. A joyful day ran away with my retreat time this afternoon.


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