A Few Words from Mary and Elizabeth
Fourth Sunday in Advent [c] December 23, 2018
39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” 46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; 52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” 56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.
In the Name of Jesus.
It must strike us at least a little bit that, as God is coming in the flesh to be among sinners, coming as a little child out of Bethlehem, the only two people on the face of the Earth who have a solid grip on what is happening are two unknown women: Elizabeth, who is too old to have a child, yet is now pregnant with little John; and Mary, who, as a Virgin, is unable to have a child, yet is now pregnant with Jesus.
When you are one of two people on the face of the Earth who know what’s going on, and you can’t talk about it publicly, since you have no voice anyone listens to anyway, and what you would be telling them is quite unbelievable in any case, then who do you talk with about it?
If you’re Mary, you pack up for a little trip and you go to the home of Elizabeth. When the angel Gabriel had told Mary that she, a Virgin, would conceive in her womb and bear a son, and his name would be Jesus, the angel had also told her that, behold, her relative Elizabeth, even in her old age, had also conceived a son, and was now six months pregnant.
So Mary knew who she could talk to about this strange, miraculous pregnancy she has been given. She would talk to Elizabeth. Luke 1:41:
And [Mary] entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
We may listen in on the conversation of these two women—the two people on the face of the Earth who at this time know what is actually happening in real time.
Big things politically and militarily are going on in Rome, as the Caesar guides his empire. Big things politically are going on in Jerusalem, as Caesar’s governor overlooks his holdings. But God in Heaven, he is doing something on Earth, too. In little Bethlehem, a town so insignificant that the Caesar in Rome would not even have known its name, and the governor in Jerusalem would not even cared to keep an eye on it, too little to even be among the clans of Judah, in this little town, God is doing what is up to this date the biggest event in history on Earth.
Elizabeth, seeing Mary, said, “why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
Elizabeth names Mary’s baby as her Lord. He is the promised one. God in the flesh. The Lord for every sinner.
Those who are under the lordship of sin, weighted down by guilt, covered in shame, they now have a new Lord. A Lord not bringing guilt, but forgiving sin. Covering not in shame, but in righteousness and honor.
Those under the lordship of the devil, they have a new Lord. Not a lord terrifying with accusation and threat, but the Lord comforting and building-up with grace and promise.
Those under the lordship of the fear of death, they have a new Lord. Not a lord offering hopelessness and despair, but the Lord of life, speaking the promise of the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.
Who are these who are under the lordship of sin and the devil and death? They are every person born of flesh and blood from the lineage of Adam. Every person then and now living in sinful flesh. They are you and me, and they are Elizabeth and Mary.
So Elizabeth proclaims the child in Mary’s womb to be her Lord. Elizabeth belongs not to death, but to life, not to the devil, but to the Lord of grace, she lives not under the accusation of the Law, but under the justification of the Gospel. This proclamation that the sinner is freely justified by the word of forgiveness, that the sinner has a Lord and his Name is Jesus, can only be made by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Luke 1:41:
And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “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?”
Elizabeth has a Lord; you and I have a Lord; he is the Lord for every sinner. So he is Mary’s Lord too. Luke 1:48:
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.”
We may in this time of Christmas be tempted with romantic ideas of how Mary was less than a sinner, of how Mary was, of her own worthiness, somehow holy.
Mary will have none of that nonsense. My soul magnifies the Lord, says Mary, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
A person who is not a sinner needs no Savior. But an actual sinner cannot justify himself or herself, and so does need a Savior. Mary doesn’t deny this. She rejoices in it.
She bears in her womb not her own righteousness, but God the Son, who is coming into the world to shed the blood to cleanse every sinner, including Mary, so that she is able to call him her Lord and Savior.
He is our Lord and Savior, too. By the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth proclaimed him her Lord. By the Holy Spirit, Mary was made to be with child, and extolled her child as her Lord and Savior.
The Holy Spirit takes us, also, up into his use. Not in the way he did Elizabeth. She was honored to be the mother of John, the Prophet who would later be given to publicly designate Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
And not in the way he took Mary up into his use, giving her to be the mother of God in the flesh, so that all generations would look in thanksgiving upon her motherhood and call her blessed.
But the Holy Spirit takes us, also, up into his use. He calls us out of the lordship we are under of sin and death and the devil, and into the Lordship of Jesus. He clothes us in the righteousness of Christ Jesus, so that even as we live in our sinful flesh, he bestows upon us a heart of faith. In this life of faith, we look not to our own righteousness, but only to the righteousness of Christ Jesus, Mary’s Son.
The Holy Spirit daily sanctifies us with the Gospel, that we, along with Elizabeth and Mary, rejoice that in Jesus, we have a Lord and Savior.
In the Name of Jesus.