Pastor Walther / Midweek Advent 1 / December 2, 2015
Luke 1:39-45 / Elizabeth: A powerful example
The doctor steps through the doors into the waiting room. The family turns to look at him, eyes watering, looking for a happy answer to all their questions. The doctor has no good answer. The doctor tries to comfort the family and have them look at the positives, but there are so few positives, as the only words they can hear, ringing in their ears, over and over again, are “I’m sorry, your newborn child isn’t going to make it.” How could this have happened? This was supposed to be a happy time celebrating a new life in the family! Instead, we sit here mourning our loss. The thought of losing a child is awful. But actually going through it is hell. What comfort can you give to a mother who will lose her child? A young pregnant woman would have to face that reality. She would’t face it during childbirth or even immediately after. But years down the road.
In the mean time, there was much to celebrate. As soon as she could leave, Mary left to see her relative Elizabeth. We don’t know a lot of information about the connection between Elizabeth and Mary, other than that she was some type of older relative, maybe an older cousin or even an aunt. Luke mentions that she and Zechariah were well along in years, past the age of having children. And yet, God blessed them with the child who would prepare the way for Jesus.
The fact that Mary went to visit her relative Elizabeth shows that they had probably become acquainted at an earlier date. They may have been in each other’s company for a while in connection with one or more of the great religious festivals. But the present passage shows that at this particular point of the story, they see each other as more than a distant relative or acquaintance.
Zechariah and Elizabeth lived in the hill country of Judea. Since Zechariah was a priest, he and his wife probably lived near the town called Hebron, which was a city allotted to priests. The distance between Hebron and Nazareth was about 100 miles. It is about 100 miles from Appleton to Milwaukee. Google maps says it would take about 33 hours walking that distance, and that is pretty flat for the most part! So, Mary probably traveled in a caravan or at least with a companion for this long journey.
When Mary stepped into the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth, Elizabeth sees the most beautiful, joyful, and comforting fact in the pregnancy of Mary. It is through the Holy Spirit in her that Elizabeth recognizes the new status of Mary and the presence of her Messiah. This believer directs the attention to the real reason for the season. Those words “Blessed is the fruit of your womb” shows that not only Mary, but most importantly that her son is the object of God the Father’s delight. This child growing in Mary’s womb was here for our salvation!
But Elizabeth wasn’t the only one who recognized the Messiah. The baby in Elizabeth’s belly moved! Now at this point in her pregnancy, this wouldn’t have been weird. The movement of the unborn child of Elizabeth when Mary’s greeting reached her would have been considered a purely natural occurrence if Elizabeth had not through the Holy spirit been made aware of its special significance. The unborn child, the forerunner of the Messiah, filled with the holy spirit, greets his master, who had come in the womb of Mary. Both Elizabeth and her unborn babe recognize his divine, kingly dignity. Unlike her husband Zechariah who doubted the announcement of their own child, Elizabeth took it all in and believed the words that God had spoken.
Elizabeth is in awe as she asks, “How is it that the mother of my Lord would come to me?” In the whole enthusiastic commotion Elizabeth wonders why she is honored with this visit from the most important people in all of history. Elizabeth recognized where she was at compared to this child. Elizabeth wasn’t worthy for them to be in her house! We aren’t worthy that Christ came to this earth. How ashamed we are that Jesus would have to come in the first place and that this baby would die for our sake! We grieve as we see our sin unfold before our eyes. We are absolutely heartbroken because of that which we have done in the past. Our pet sins are laid out before God. We are terrified at the fact that God saw that one little thing that we did when we thought no one else was around. We cry over that because our sin has separated us from God. God demands perfection. We are a hopeless cause.
This is why we come before God in humility, like Elizabeth before her king. We come before God recognizing our spiritual poverty and unworthiness in God’s eyes. We can’t live up to God’s standards of perfection and we deserve God’s punishment. As Christians, we mourn over our sin. We are sad over our hopelessness. As long as we live in a world of sin and as long as we sin daily, all we can do is stretch out our poor hands to God’s grace in Christ. And yet in his love, God comes close to us!
What deserves special attention is this outstanding fact, that in Elizabeth’s entire exclamation envy never raises its head. Elizabeth was after all much older than Mary. Yet this older woman is deeply conscious of her own unworthiness and genuinely rejoices in the joy of her much younger relative. She cried out in a loud voice because her heart was filled with wonder, thanksgiving, and last but not least, love. She could not restrain herself; in fact, she did not even wish to hold back. I think that’s why we could call these words “Elizabeth’s song of love.”
As a child of God, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, who moved her to faith and to faithfulness. What a wonderful example to Mary and to us! For Mary to hear Elizabeth refer to them in this astonishing way, to declare their positive fulfillment to the very end must have been a mighty boost to her faith and sweet comfort and assurance for her soul. The fact that Elizabeth spoke by revelation as well as by inspiration must have been certain to Mary.
The humility and knowledge that Elizabeth displayed, as she spoke biblical words of encouragement and happiness was amazing. The wonderful encouragement of an older believer can be so powerful. Even when Elizabeth would have known the tragedy that Mary would face as she would see her son die, Elizabeth reminds us all why Christ had to come to this earth. Elizabeth was such a powerful example to her much younger relative, Mary and to all of us. However she was a believer that directed our attention away from herself and directed us to the Messiah, who would save us from our sin.
Maybe we ask about ourselves as we did for Elizabeth and I’m sure Elizabeth and Mary were asking, “How do I know that this really happened?” Because the Holy Spirit told you so. Just as God sent angels to communicate to Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph, just as He poured out the Spirit into this room in the hill country of Judea, so too God has chosen to make known to you His times and places. God deals with us through His Word and Sacraments. He doesn’t send angels or instant illumination, but He does reveal Himself as He reveals to you Jesus, the fruit of Mary’s womb, the blessing for all nations. He reveals Himself as He reveals through Jesus His times and ways. His words and means enter you into the lists of those who are blessed: blessed by being clothed in Christ by faith, blessed by being washed clean and spotless in the blood of Jesus.