The Joyful Mysteries are aptly named. At the root of their title, I suspect, is the acknowledgement that for humanity, the light had finally dawned. The reversal of our unhappy state had finally come with the conception and birth of the Messiah. And yet, the Joyful Mysteries are also shrouded in fear and danger, as well, because, as we know, the darkness wars against the light. How strongly must it have raged, now that the Eternal Word was so vulnerable! And yet, due to the preparation for his coming, which we meditated upon yesterday, the little Lord Jesus was welcomed and protected. Today, we meditate upon and celebrate the rising of the divine sun (son) by whose light we now properly see the world, ourselves, and our beloved God.
The first Joyful Mystery: The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary“The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’” (Luke 1:30-33)
As we saw in the Messianic Mysteries yesterday, Mary, herself, was a gift to the world. The New Eve, preserved from sin, dedicated to God, and entrusted to St. Joseph's care, had every reason to expect that her life would be one of quiet prayer and service. I suppose her Immaculate Heart burned with a great desire to give herself more radically to God--a desire this consecrated religious can relate to. Yet, I imagine that no amount of holiness could have prepared her for the mission that God actually asked of her. To be the mother, not just of the Messiah as the people commonly understood him, but the mother of God's own son--the product of a miraculous conception through the Holy Spirit. This mission would place her in a very uncomfortable position. Her reputation was one of purity and piety--how would it look to the world when she was found pregnant before her marriage to Joseph had really begun? I'll tell you, it would look like hypocrisy on the highest level, else, a violation of the worst kind. People would not understand, and would she have the words to explain?
Yet, we know that Mary boldly says "yes" to God's mission for her. She put herself in great danger by doing so--but what would the meaning of her life be, if her holiness did not persuade her to always choose God's will over her own? This question is put to us through this mystery, as well.
Also, in this mystery, we meditate upon the highest joy--that God the Eternal Word chose to come to earth to be among us, and to show us what we were always meant to be like. Our humanity is defined by Jesus, so it is to him that we see ourselves most clearly. Of course, Jesus is also the highest revelation of the God's nature. No book written by men, however holy, could say what Jesus would say about God in his life and death and resurrection. This revelation began at the Annunciation.
The second Joyful Mystery: The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her Cousin St. Elizabeth.
“In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:39-45)
In this meeting between Blessed Mary and Saint Elizabeth all the women of the Covenant are crowned with honor. A holy woman is about to give the people the great prophet of repentance, and another holy girl is about to give them their promised Messiah. Each recognizes in the other a kindred spirit, each looks to the other for support.
Also, Elizabeth's pregnancy confirms what the angel had spoken to Mary. It is this confirmation from Elizabeth that overwhelms Mary with joy and causes her to sing the Magnificat--a song that echoes so many of the hymns of praise from her Jewish tradition. For me, the Magnificat is more than just an echo--it is the quintessential hymn of the soul. I imagine that even at the foot of the Cross, Mary's heart sang Magnificat, and I also imagine that on the Last Day,--the beginning of everything changing, coming to an end, and beginning anew,--these last things will open with an appearance of Mary, and her singing the Magnificat. Then the Lord will return in glorious triumph. The Magnificat, therefore, is the hymn of all Christians. It's our song of thanksgiving and praise, and our song of triumph over our greatest enemies: sin and death.
The third Joyful Mystery: The Nativity of the Lord Jesus
“But the angel said to them [the shepherds], ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’” (Luke 2:10-14)
We know that ordinary pregnancies have potential dangers. Physically, things can naturally go wrong, and, the mother and child are exposed to dangers external to the body. Besides these dangers, King Herod "the Great" was corrupt to the point that he had no problem persecuting those whom he saw as a threat to his power. Just as in the days of Moses, the life of Jesus would be endangered from the moment he was born. It seems a sad commentary that a Jewish baby was not even safe in his own homeland, under a Jewish monarch, puppet though Herod was.
But, despite these dangers, Jesus came into the world. However we imagine the manger to look like, the smell of the animals and the shepherds, the sound of the angels singing--the energy of the world collective was radically impacted by the birth of the Incarnate Word. The waves of healing energy, the waves of joy, the waves of purity broke out--perhaps in unobservable ways--but real and powerful ways. In the darkness of an unhappy, confused, and frightful countryside was lit one little light of hope. A baby boy cradled and lovingly looked after by two gentle and astounded souls. Here was the invisible God made visible, and he looked as little and lovable as any little baby. My God! My God! How brave you were, and how wondrous! To humble yourself to come among us, to be one of us, so that we could be one with you!
The fourth Joyful Mystery: The Presentation of the Lord Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem
“Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’ And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed,—and a sword will pierce your own soul too so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed.’” (Luke 2:27-35)
The Feast of the Circumcision has fallen out of fashion in these modern days. We now celebrate the Feast of the Mother of God--But we ought not to forget that even in these earliest days, the Passion of the Lord Jesus has already begun. When Jesus is circumcised according to the Torah, and becomes a member of the Jewish people according to the Covenant made by God with Abraham, that blood and that pain is redemptive. It was pain freely endured for our sakes.
He is given the name Yeshua--Jesus in Greek--a name that means "God Saves". It's a reminder to all who would encounter him that no merely human man could do what God intended the Messiah to do. God always reserved for himself the role of King and Savior. Therefore, the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us, so that God could truly reign.
In this mystery, too, Mary receives the second part to her vocation. Her heart was to be pierced, so that the thoughts of many would be made known. This divine gift to Mary establishes her as a mediator for all who would ask for her prayers. By virtue of her sharing in the sorrow of the Passion of her son, she would share in his work of redemption by praying for her brothers and sisters in need. In this way, she is an example to all Christians who also share in this work of reconciliation and mediation. Make no mistake about it: Our hearts ought to be pierced as well so that they can be turned toward our neighbors and opened as a reservoir for petitions for the world.
The fifth Joyful Mystery: The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple among the Experts
“After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ He said to them. ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:46-51)
Already in the young heart of Jesus was the zeal he needed to be about the work of the Father. He could not resist the urge to sit in the shade of the holy Temple and to teach others from his store of wisdom. These collected scholars were people he could talk to as peers, people he could question, and people he could challenge. He must have enjoyed himself those three days, even while Mary and Joseph were heart-sick with worry. It was not yet his time, however; and Mary calls him back home. Humble and obedient, the Lord Jesus obeys his parents and returns home. His Sacred Heart, however, has been enkindled with a new kind of fire. He would return to that Temple and he would teach. His divine mission was permeating his humanity.
We must realize that the Temple in Jerusalem was the seat of all holy rituals and all holy teaching. It was believed to be the House of God, the place that all the Nations would seek out. With Jesus, however, the Temple of God became the human body itself. With the giving of the Holy Spirit to us in a new and special way, the Temple of God would expand, and would seek out the nations. Stone and gold can never compare to the beauty of the living Temple: the Temple of the Body of Christ. We Christians are that Temple.