How Does a Weary World Rejoice? We Find Joy in Connection.

Rev. Taylor Hall Avatar

Today, we gather in the spirit of the Advent season, on this the second Sunday. Our overarching theme this Advent is a question that resonates deeply within all of us: “How does a weary world rejoice?” It is our hope to answer that question as a community this Advent and Christmas and to provide encouragement and even instructions on how we, as part of this weary world, can rejoice. 

So how do we answer that question today? How does a weary world rejoice? 

We find joy in connection. 

There is immense power found in connection with others and the joy it can bring, particularly in times when the world around us feels heavy with weariness.

We find joy in connection.

Luke 1:24-45 introduces us to Elizabeth and Mary, two women marked by divine intervention and interconnected by familial ties. Both are faced with pregnancies that defy human understanding: Elizabeth conceives in her old age, and Mary, a virgin, is chosen to bear the Christ child. Despite the societal and generational differences that exist between them, a shared experience unites them. This shared experience becomes a source of connectional joy and comfort, a beacon of light in their remarkable circumstances.

In this passage, we find Elizabeth secluded, pregnant in her old age after years of barrenness. We don’t know why she chose to hide herself away, but we can imagine the questions swirling in her mind. ‘Does the Lord know how old I am?’ ‘Why now, after all these years, am I blessed with a child?’ ‘Has all the years of being childless filled me with shame and weariness?’ 

On the other side, we have Mary, a young woman newly pregnant and not yet married. She, too, might have been asking herself, ‘Does the Lord know how young I am?’ ‘How can I rejoice in this unexpected pregnancy when I’m not married?’ ‘What am I to do?!’

While we don’t know how Elizabeth found out she was pregnant (after all, scripture tells us the angel visited Zechariah with the news and then made him mute), we do hear about the angel sharing the good news with Mary. 

But Mary’s initial reaction to the unexpected visit of the angel Gabriel was one of fear and confusion. She was troubled by the sudden announcement that she was highly favored and that the Lord was with her. In fact, Luke tells us that Mary’s state of mind was even more troubled than Zechariah’s. Luke employs the Greek verb e-ta-rax-they to describe Zechariah’s troubled state of mind. But Luke uses die-ta-rax-they, a stronger form of ta-rax-they, to describe Mary’s state of mind when she heard Gabriel’s initial announcement. E-ta-rax-they simply means “troubled,” but die-ta-rax-they means “greatly troubled.”

This was a significant moment for Mary, and she had every reason to be greatly troubled by this unexpected visitor and the grand but vague announcement. She was in a vulnerable position, being young, female, and poor in a society that valued age and power. The stakes were high for Mary, as one wrong move could have severe consequences for her personal and family reputation.

However, Mary’s story stands out for the transformation she undergoes from her initial fear and trouble to a place of acceptance and affirmation of the angel’s announcement. The angel, Gabriel, sought to reassure Mary and convince her to embrace her role in the mission. He made grand pronouncements about her favored status, the greatness of her son, and his eternal kingdom. These pronouncements should have brought great joy to Mary. But interestingly, they did not fully reassure her or alleviate her anxiety.

Mary still had questions and asked, “How will this be?” The angel’s response, assuring her of the power of the Most High and the divine nature of her offspring, was strong. However, it still did not completely ease her doubts.

It is in the same announcement that Mary’s child will be the Son of God, the angel tells her that Elizabeth is also pregnant. It was the news of Elizabeth’s miraculous conception that finally convinced Mary to accept the angel’s announcement. The fact that her relative, someone she knew well, was also experiencing a similar situation gave her the reassurance and support she needed. Mary understood the importance of someone who would walk with her, share in her experience, and stand by her side during this uncertain journey.

And even more so, when Mary arrives at Elizabeth’s door, something miraculous happens. When Mary encounters Elizabeth, her relative and companion in unexpected motherhood, Elizabeth’s child leaps in her womb, and she is filled with the Holy Spirit. Then, Mary’s fear gives way to joy. 

Mary and Elizabeth experience joy together. Their joy is shared! It is mutual! It is contagious! In that moment, joy bursts forth, not in isolation, but through connection.

The two share a joy that only grows and expands from their connection.

This shared joy between Mary and Elizabeth echoes the words of Brené Brown, who defines joy as “an intense feeling of deep spiritual connection, pleasure, and appreciation.” She tells us that joy is “characterized by a connection with others, or with God, nature, or the universe.” 

Similarly, in the Greek language of the New Testament, the word for “happy” or “blessed” is ma-ka-rios, which suggests a state of good fortune or carefree living. Yet, this is not the joy we speak of today. The joy we seek is not dependent on wealth or ease, but rather, it is a joy born of connection. It is the Greek word for joy, chairó, that we hold in our hearts as we journey through Advent. This is a joy that can be found in hardship, in uncertainty, in weariness, because it is a joy that grows in relationship.

This is the joy we are invited to seek in this Advent season: joy rooted in connection; joy that grows in relationship; joy that can flourish even in a weary world.

The prophecy of Isaiah 40 echoes the sentiments from Luke as we encounter another expression of connectional joy. The prophet Isaiah speaks words of comfort to a weary people in exile, promising them that their suffering will end, that they will return home. These words are a balm, a soothing salve for a people wearied by oppression and loss. They offer comfort, yes, but more than that, they offer hope. And hope is a potent catalyst for joy.

Just as Isaiah’s words comforted the exiles, so too do we find comfort in our connections with one another. We find joy in the shared experiences, in the mutual support, in the simple and profound act of being there for each other. This is how a weary world rejoices. 

We witness weariness every day, both in our present lives and in the lives of people across the world. We think of those who are lonely or isolated, those who grieve, those who are burdened by fear and uncertainty. We recognize that joy may feel elusive for many of us. 

Yet, the stories of Elizabeth and Mary, of the comforted exiles in Isaiah, remind us that joy is not a solitary endeavor. It is not something we must muster on our own. Joy is not an isolated experience. Instead, joy is something we share, something we create together, something we find in connection. When we cannot find joy within ourselves, we can draw from the joy of others. In the sharing of our joy, we multiply it. Joy expands in a community.

For any of us, whenever facing difficult or unforeseen circumstances; when facing weariness – what matters most is having someone who will share in our experience, stand with us, and walk alongside us. 

This is the essence of the incarnation, that God not only assures us of God’s care but also shares in our human experience and journeys with us in our everyday lives. Jesus Christ, the incarnate God, the Word made flesh, Emmanuel – “God with us” – promises to always share in our experience, to stand with us, and walk alongside us. 

This Advent season: embrace and embody the incarnation. Embrace the incarnation, that God is with us, walking with us in our joys and struggles. And because of our faith in a God who does that for us; we must do the same for others. Embody the incarnation and promise to walk with others in shared joys and struggles, both yours and theirs. As followers of the incarnate Christ, lift up the relationships you create and foster as holy endeavors with the most beloved of people— every relationship; every person. 

We are never alone in our struggles. We are part of a divine design, intricately connected with each other, with God, with the universe. Even in our weariness, we can find joy in these connections because the joy is always there. Yes, it is true. Joy is always there, waiting to be discovered in the connections we share with one another, with God, and with the world around us. 

As we journey through this Advent season, may we be open to the joy that comes from connection. May we find comfort in the shared experiences of our community. May we hold joy for each other, just as Mary and Elizabeth did. And may this shared, connectional joy light our path, guiding us through the weariness of our world and into the hope and peace of the coming Christ.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.