Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3-10)
I learned a great deal via Schoolhouse Rock, that series of brief three-minute animated shows utilized by ABC to—with a combination of catchy tunes and clever lyrics—smuggle some elementary education in grammar, civics, history, and math into young cartoon-addled minds on Saturday mornings in the 1970s.
They were wildly successful. "I'm Just a Bill on Capitol Hill" was how a generation of kids were introduced to how our government works. "A Noun is a Person, Place, or Thing," "Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here," and "Conjunction Junction" gave children a grasp of basic grammar. And solid lessons on multiplication were delivered in the ebullient "Three is a Magic Number," the thoughtful, "My Hero, Zero," and the more melancholy, "Figure Eight."
My favorite episode though was, "Interjections!" which suggested that "Hey!," "Oh!," "Ouch!," "Wow!," and the like are words that "start a sentence right" when "you're happy, or sad, or frightened, or mad, or excited, or glad..." If you grew up with this Saturday morning experience, you'll remember:
They're generally set apart from a sentence,
By an exclamation point,
Or by a comma when the feeling's not as strong.
It's lost in the translation, but Jesus used interjections a lot in the Sermon on the Mount. Each of the Beatitudes begins with an interjection. While we're more familiar with the formula: "Blessed are the poor in spirit..." and "Blessed are those who mourn...," in the Aramaic that Jesus used, there's no verb in the sentences. It's more accurately rendered, "Blessed! The poor in spirit..." and "Blessed! Those who mourn..." And what's more, the word blessed is probably not the best word to convey what Jesus actually said either. The word He actually used was a derivation of the Greek word makarios which translates as a sort of serene, self-contained, untouchable brand of joy—a joy that's independent from the ups and downs of life. In his commentary on the subject, Scottish theologian William Barclay noted that Jesus' formulation with these exclamatory interjections express "the joyous thrill and radiant gladness of the Christian life." He wrote: "they're not wistful glimpses of some future beauty...[but] triumphant shouts of bliss for a permanent joy that nothing in the world can ever take away."
In essence, each one of the Beatitudes is an expression that with Advent, with Christmas, with the arrival of Christ's new way, new truth, and new life, God's promise that true Joy can be ours has now been forever fulfilled.
Oh! And if you don't recall how the "Interjections!" episode of Schoolhouse Rock ended, consider this week, exclamation points and all: "Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!"