Jump for Joy


I’ve never been a Van Halen fan but who can hear his 1984 song “Jump” and not want to? More apropos in several ways is the Christmas hymn “How Great Our Joy” whose origins date as far back as the 16th century (www.celebratingholidays.com/). You can’t miss the ever expanding sense of joy in the refrain. “How great our joy! Great our joy! Joy, joy, joy! Joy, joy, joy!” And the Collect appointed for The Visitation since 1524 prays “grant us grace in all humility and meekness to receive Your Word with hearty faith and to rejoice in Jesus Christ.” And the Gospel fairly exudes joy. We have the six-month-old Baby John who in utero “leaped for joy” at the greeting of the Virgin Mary, and Mary’s “spirit rejoiced in God my Savior.” Yet, we’re probably more moved to joy and rejoicing by the Christmas hymn or even Van Halen than we are the text. Music can make you want to jump, but if it’s not supported by true words, when the music dies so does the joy.

So jump for joy; a baby is here. Now people today are ‘gender selecting’ babies ahead of time, sometimes by manipulating genetics, sometimes by the brutality of abortion. Women, and only women, from the WW I generation to the present have said to me that there is a bias for boys which sometimes they said they even had. Frankly, I’ve seldom heard men say that. A baby here, boy or girl, is reason to jump for joy.

Another thing WW I and II women would say is, “A boy or girl as long as it is healthy.” Sorry, jump for joy healthy or not. If you’ve had a miscarriage and someone tried to comfort you by saying: It probably had severe birth defects. That didn’t work did it? Healthy or not I wanted that baby who’s been on the scene, in the family, sense conception. I don’t know how my seminary professor concluded this, but he said that, Jesus is no more than 7 days old when all this jumping for joy for a baby happens (Buls, Sermon Notes, Gospel, C, 9).

A baby is here from conception on and Jesus isn’t the only Baby to bring explosive change. One of the reasons you jump when a baby is here is because, especially the first, is like a bomb going off in your house. A newly married woman was telling me all that she was going to do when God gave her children. I smiled on the inside. A “herding cats” image came to mine as well as an “I Love Lucy” skit, and a mushroom cloud. No new mom, and specially dad, has any idea, though they probably sense it, how much things have changed already just with a baby’s conception. 

Jump for joy; a baby is here, and jump for joy a God is here. I say “a” on purpose for the thought of any God among humanity is unsettling, amazing, the subject of legends and myths, something even unbelief will dwell on. I don’t know whether or not the singer of the 1995 song is Christian but their song “What if God Was One Us” ponders this: “What if God was one of us?/ Just a slob like one of us/ Just a stranger on the bus/ Tryin' to make his way home?” Or how about the 2009 song by Fray that opens with, “I found God/ On the corner of First and Amistad.” Read the 1831 “Christ in Flanders” by Honoré de Balzac. A Stranger boards a small ferry with about 12 other people. A violent storm explodes. They are facing certain death. Suddenly the Stranger stands up and says, “Follow me,” and steps into the storm. Fellow passengers are stunned. Some follow others stay. Or read the digression in Dostoevsky’s Brother’s Karamazov called “The Grand Inquisitor.” He is in charge of the Inquisition in Spain, and bitterly takes Jesus to task even though he recognizes Him. Ordinary people do too, but they plead for and get miracles. That’s the effect of a God being here. It’s disorienting to all but comforting only to some.

Elizabeth doesn’t confess that a God is here but that Yahweh is. She calls Mary, “the mother of my Lord.” Earlier Luke had written that she was righteous in the sight of God and observed the Lord’s commandments. Lord in Greek is Yahweh in Hebrew. Yahweh whose might and power had made hearts melt with fear in the OT is here in the NT. The God whom no man could see and live is alive and kicking in a virgin’s womb. Still unseen but soon to be not only seen but held, nursed, burped, and changed.

You probably remember that for Roman Catholics Mary’s color is blue. You might recall that for the saints and evangelists the altar paraments are red, for martyrdom usually. Well the color today is White as it is on August 15, the festival of Mary, Mother of God. That’s because both holidays are not about Mary, a sinner like us, but about the Holy God she carried, bore, and raised. Some will modify this and say, “Mary is the mother of the Son of God” but that dilutes the point. God is here in flesh and blood no less powerfully, holy, fully than in God the Father or the Spirit: Here’s how we Confess it. “Hence we believe, teach, and confess that Mary conceived and bore not a mere man and no more, but the true Son of God; therefore she also is rightly called and truly is the mother of God” (FC, Epitome, VII, 12). This is a confession of just how near God is. He’s right here. Jump for joy that not only is a God here but the God is.

Putting this altogether we have the God who’s is a Baby is here. Jump for joy propelled by amazement. If you recall, the aged Elizabeth on finding out she was with child, kept herself hidden for five months. We’re told that this is now her 6th month. This is her coming out party, and it takes God in the womb of Mary to make that happen. When she heard the greeting of Mary, two things happened: She was filled with the Holy Spirit and Baby John leapt in her womb. Later on she says John leapt for joy. It was not some muscle response, some “quickening” of what till then was just a group of cells. This was a child filled by Mary’s voice with the Holy Spirit and jumping with intent, purpose, to express his joy. Joy, joy, joy!

Remember how in the “Christ in Flanders” short story all were unnerved by the Stranger’s ‘otherness”? Acts of God are considered by law bad. Cornell Law School says, “an act of God refers to a severe, unanticipated natural event for which no human is responsible” (www.law.cornell.edu). People in natural disasters or even manmade ones are at best bothered and worst terrified by something too big for them. You’ll recall that when both Isaiah and Jeremiah are in the presence of Yahweh it’s their sins and weaknesses that overwhelm them. Not here. I’m sure like the bulletin art shows, these two touched each other’s bellies and Elizabeth was no more frightened than Mary. Why? Because all of this was foretold by God for millennia. The virgin has now conceived; the Promised Seed of the Women was here to crush the Devil’s head. He was here to take humanity’s place in both actively keeping the law and passively suffering all the judgments due for not keeping it. If you’ve ever called Police, Fire, or Ambulance, when they arrived, you gave a sigh; maybe experienced joy. That’s how The Visitation was for these women. God was visiting His people not in terror as the King of Kings but kind and gentle with healing in His wings.

But if this is our only connecting point, then it’s something in the past like de Balzac’s story. But He’s in this account. This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God, we say. And that Word doesn’t die out as soon as it’s spoken or right after it’s heard. That Word speaks reality into existence and there is more than intangible Spirit wrought faith and joy here. God willed to redeem flesh and blood by taking on flesh and blood. He won for flesh and blood with His flesh and blood God’s forgiveness, grace, mercy, and peace for flesh and blood. But there’s more. The incarnate God promises to be present, to work on our flesh and blood by things flesh and blood can access and use with all 5 senses. As the Word in the Mother of God was able to give Elizabeth the Holy Spirit and fill unborn John with Spirit and joy, what can’t the Word of God in Baptism, Absolution, Communion give you? Forgiveness? Peace? Joy? Victory over Sin, over Death, over the Devil himself? Yes! Yes! Yes!

If it was an honor to Elizbeth for the Mother of God to come to her while carrying God the Son how much of an honor, a joy for us that Water comes to us bearing new everlasting Life; that Words come to us bearing the forgiveness of our sins; that Bread and Wine come to us bearing God’s Body and Blood for not just life, for not just forgiveness, but for salvation. If we neglect using these things or even fail to leap for joy in the presence of them, it’s because we’re deceived by their outward appearances. It’s because we don’t take God at His Word about how miraculous Baptism, Absolution, and Communion are. We stay on the ferry rather than follow the Stranger onto the storm tossed seas of life.

You might think that The Visitation was all for Elizabeth, but that’s not what Luke tell us. When Gabriel announces that Mary will bear the Son of the Most High, the Holy Spirit records she was “very perplexed”, “afraid”, but she humbly resigned herself to what was happening, “Behold the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to be according to your Word.” No joy, right? While telling Mary she would bear the Christ, Gabriel says, seemingly as an aside, “Behold, even your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son in her old age; and she…is now in her 6th month.” That’s it. He doesn’t command or suggest Mary go to Elizabeth. But no sooner does the angel depart then we read: “Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry…and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth.”

It’s only after Elizabeth twice pronounces her blessed that her soul glorifies the Lord and her Spirit rejoices in God her Savior. Her glorifying and rejoicing came from what Elizabeth says to her. And then Mary’s joy is recorded in a song we call the Magnificat. The version we normally chant can’t be leapt to; neither can the one we’ll sing today. But a sense of expanding joy is communicated by the music linked to these words of Mary. Even when the music dies away the joy remains. Amen

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

The Visitation (20230702); Luke 1:39-47