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Joy's Leap

December 16, 2018
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation this day, while also examining our Old Testament reading, is focused on our Gospel lesson, especially where Luke records Elizabeth’s exclamation, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

Kings don’t run; they stride. Kings don’t just throw something on; they’re robed. And kings don’t just grab a bite to eat; they dine. Kings are expected to be men of dignity and decorum, of regal behavior and composure. They are, frankly, kingly … resplendent and stately. Thus, kings don’t leap.

But in our Old Testament reading today, a king engages in some not-so-regal behavior. David is leaping. He is leaping because he is so overjoyed. One of his wives is repulsed, thinking this behavior quite undignified. If this is her reaction, it’s likely that others were likewise shocked at the king’s behavior, but frankly, he doesn’t care. He is overjoyed, clicking his heels, because the Ark of the Covenant is entering Jerusalem.

You have heard how the Ark of the Covenant was the set-apart, holy place for God’s presence on earth, a gold-covered box on top of which sat the Mercy Seat. David had attempted to bring the Ark into Jerusalem three months before, but when Uzzah was struck down for just touching the ark, David was (understandably) afraid and left the ark with a man named Obed-edom. Now hearing that Obed-edom had been blessed by God because of the ark, David was again willing to give it a go and try to bring the ark to Jerusalem. As part of the procession, David changed into a priestly garment, sacrificed before the ark, and entered into Jerusalem dancing and leaping for joy before God’s presence. David’s wife Michal, however, was less than pleased with the king’s righteous jocularity; indeed, we’re told that she despised him in her heart. She may not have found his behavior befitting a king, but God did, and in fact God struck Michal with barrenness for the rest of her life because of her hatred and scorn of David’s celebration, his rejoicing, that day.

“Rejoice” is the word that echoes through the Church this week. This is the week we light the pink candle on the Advent wreath and hear Paul’s words: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Why this perpetual rejoicing, according to Paul? The Lord is at hand. That truly is a cause for rejoicing! We don’t have to go up to heaven to search for the Lord and bring Him down to us. No, the Lord comes near to us, even here, today, right now! He comes to us in the waters of baptism, plucking us out of the hate and rage and sorrow of sin and saying instead, “You are Mine, and no one can take you from Me.” He comes to us in the proclamation of His Word, actually using the words you hear echo in this sanctuary to sustain you in the one true faith. He is at hand as we partake of His true Body and Blood in, with, and under the bread and wine in the Supper – imagine: Christ our Lord, the One who suffered for us, actually coming to you as you approach the rail! Such news should make our hearts leap for joy! It comes to us every week!

But maybe that’s part of the problem. The real question is, how often do we actually rejoice in this truth? I’m not just talking about feeling happy, but actually finding joy in the gifts and promises given us? Don’t we take God’s presence among us for granted? Don’t we tend to be blasé and indifferent to His promises and the sheer grandeur of His presence with us, here in this place? Alas, we do, and thus we need reminding. Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard a certain verbal phrase – “stir up” – in our Collects of the Day. We pray that God would stir up our hearts because they do not respond rightly to His coming. Instead of exploding in joy, our hearts are heavy with longings and desires that have nothing to do with Christ Jesus. “Stir up our hearts, O Lord,” for our hearts are heavy with discontent. We have sunk the roots of our lives into the bitter waters of jealousy, and have borne rotten fruit. We rejoice in things like retirement, sports games, or items on a bucket list. But the drawing near of the Lord? Well, maybe we’ll have more time next year for that. Our lips may acknowledge Him, but our hearts are far from Him. Contrast that with David, a king, who couldn’t care less what others thought of him as he danced for joy in the streets of Jerusalem because God was keeping His promises.

More incredible than this is that God knows about our indifference, our apathy, and still He desires to be with us. In fact, He desires to draw near to all sinful, hateful, spiteful human hearts and incredibly desires to give us a reason to rejoice; thus what we hear in our Gospel reading. Even while still in the womb, John the Baptist knew holiness when he came in close proximity to it; we’re told that, when pregnant Mary visited pregnant Elizabeth, John leapt in joy at hearing the voice of the woman carrying the world’s Savior. That’s right; like David, John knew how to react to God’s fulfilling of His promises before either of them was even born! But in John’s case, something far more wonderful than the Ark of the Covenant had come. Mary carried in her womb nothing less than God’s presence in human flesh, Jesus, Who is the Christ.

But He didn’t come to rule, as many assumed the Christ would. No, Jesus came in the flesh … so that He could be stripped and humiliated for our offenses. He came humbly as a little baby … for the purpose of dying on a cross to atone for our indifference toward Him. Though it may not look like it at first glance, the most joyous sight we could ever see is the promised Son of David drawing near to Jerusalem to die for us. His joy in doing His Father’s will was like King David’s joy; but Jesus’s joy in willingly going to the cross meant our acquittal and our resurrection to an eternal life with Him. The Child who came forth from Mary’s womb would also come forth one day from His tomb, in triumph over sin and death, to reign on the throne of His father David forever.

In about a week, the well-known Christmas hymn will ask the question in our churches, What Child Is This? The answer is enough to make our hearts leap like the unborn John the Baptist leapt. This Child is the same God who drew near to King David, truly present in the Ark of the Covenant and making the king leap for joy. This Child is the same God who drew near to John the Baptist and made him leap for joy. This Child is the world’s Joy-Bringer. Joy in the flesh. The sinner’s delight. He is pure cheer for the heavyhearted and the oppressed. He is the one whose second coming we are longing for.

Until that blessed Day, we rejoice that He is still drawing near to us, every week, here in this place. In His Word and Sacraments. He comes so near that the forgiveness He gives through His word of Gospel drives right into your heart and stirs it up, revives it, and refreshes it, even if you don’t feel it. He comes so near that the Word that made John leap takes residence in your heart, and you can’t help but leap with gladness overflowing in love to others. He comes so near that His Holy Spirit fills your body and your heart and makes you a new creation. He will one day draw near from His eternal throne one final time, and we will be near to Him in the flesh forever. Rejoice, therefore, like David and John the Baptist before you. The Lord draws near; indeed, He is already at hand.

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Tags: Luke 1:39-45