Can you recall a time maybe in your childhood or maybe recently when you played hide and seek? Maybe if you grew up in a church with a youth group, you can relate to the game sardines? Sometimes there is a person playing the game who is a hide and seek allstar, especially when they are hiding. They are almost impossible to find each and every time they hide. They find the very best nooks and crannies to squeeze into. They have an unbelievable ability to be as quiet as a mouse and as still as a statue. You search high and low for them, and without fail, you must surrender the searching to have the game end. They win each and every time?
Well 2020 has felt somewhat like an elite game of hide and seek. You see, we are playing with joy, and joy is winning. Joy has found the very best hiding place. We humans have been seeking joy for months on end, and more often than not, we have trouble finding her. Joy has been elusive. And even when we catch a glimpse of joy – we hesitate and second guess whether or not to see and experience Joy in her fullness.
I wonder if Elizabeth and Mary were familiar with the elusive nature of joy. As we discussed this passage in our Advent Bible Study this past week, we talked about how Elizabeth and Mary were likely on the margins in their own contexts. For women in that time and in that place, marriage and childbearing were orderly or normal expectations.
Until the promise of a son in Zechariah’s vision, Elizabeth was a married woman, but childless and older in age. She was likely more ostracized and overlooked because she and Zechariah had no children. No one to carry on a family name. No one to inherit family wealth or land.
And Mary. Mary was a young, girl in the middle of her teenage years. After the angel Gabriel visited her and told her she would be the mother of Jesus, by the power of the holy spirit. Mary was then pregnant, but not married. This defied societal standards – putting Mary in the same predicament as Elizabeth. Facing disapproval from many and being ostracized from normalcy.
Joy was not completely absent in the lives of Elizabeth and Mary, however. In today’s scripture, we hear about the angel’s visit to Mary telling her that she would be the mother of Jesus, and at the very end – the angel reveals to Mary that she is not alone, but that her cousin, Elizabeth is also expecting.
With anticipatory joy, Mary journeys to a city in Judah to visit Elizabeth.
And joy – pure joy – was exchanged in their reunion.
Joy danced in Elizabeth’s womb as the baby leaped upon Mary’s arrival.
Joy poured out of Elizabeth’s lips in the form of blessings upon Mary.
Joy takes on the form of a song as Mary praises God for all that God has done and all that God will do.
There is joy to be shared and Luke makes space for Mary to share this joy.
To Elizabeth and Mary, joy may have once been distant and evasive, but now joy was seen and heard in its fullness. The game of hide and seek was over and joy was found in the promises of God.
The promises of a God whose mercy is for everyone – from generation to generation.
The promises of a God whose shown strength in scattering the proud and the arrogant.
The promises of a God whose pulled down the mighty and uplifted the lowly.
The promises of a God who has fed the hungry and sent the rich away.
The promises of a God who has come to the aid of Israel time and time again, remembering all of God’s people.
Mary and Elizabeth find joy hidden in the promises of God. They do not hesitate. They do not second guess this joy. They share it with one another and with God in praise.
Can we, too? Can we also find joy in the promises of God? Even if we cannot see or feel it in the present moment… somewhere joy hides itself in the promises of God.
And when we do find joy, can we see it and feel it in its fullness like Mary and Elizabeth? For our joy in God’s promises is meant to be experienced fully. It’s meant to leap and dance. It’s meant to pour from our mouths in the form of blessings. It’s meant to be sung in the form of praise.
We need not hesitate or second guess the joy we find – even in the midst of a tumultuous year.
We can follow the wisdom of Mary Oliver’s poetic words in her piece – Don’t Hesitate.
“If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happens better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.”