After the angel Gabriel told Mary she would be mother to the messiah, she visited her relative Elizabeth. Older and childless, Elizabeth was also in the middle of an unexpected pregnancy. When Mary shared her news, Elizabeth’s baby (who would grow up to be John the Baptist) leaped in her womb for Joy (Luke 1:44).
After delivering her news, Mary spoke a prayer we now call the Magnificat. This prayer is an important hymn in the Christian church, particularly among Catholics. In the Magnificat, Mary humbly praises God for the favor he has shown her, and she also praises God for keeping his promises to the nation of Israel. The joy Mary and Elizabeth feel for their own situations is inseparable from the joy they feel for their community.
Throughout the Old Testament we read about how God is invested in the fate of his people as a whole. Individuals are shown favor for the purpose of serving the good of the community, not for individual glory. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul rejoices from his prison because God is blessing the greater church. Paul does acknowledge his personal suffering, but seeing himself as part of something greater allows him to do both simultaneously.
The current culture of the United States teaches us joy is to be found in personal pursuits. When we want to encourage people to act charitably we tell them how good it will make them feel. The faith language of best-selling books focuses on personal salvation and the prosperity gospel. We trade accountability for independence and talk about rights as though they are divorced from responsibilities. We don’t leap for joy if the salvation of the community depletes our wallets or makes demands of us. Mary’s sacrificial joy is revolutionary even today.
As our faith grows deeper, our concerns grow broader. If our joy relies only on personal satisfaction, it will be fleeting. We have access to so much more joy when we understand we are part of a community. When the Lord “fill[s] the hungry with good things,” (Luke 39:53) we are filled also.
Comfort: Our joy need not be limited by our personal circumstances.
Challenge: Read the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) aloud. Read it again with a friend – or better yet, a group.
Prayer: Thank you, oh Great God, for the community of your church. Deliver us from evils within and without. Mold us into an vessel of your love. Amen.
Discussion: Do you feel like part of a larger community? What is that community based on?
Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!