Two expectant mothers get together, which isn’t all that unusual in and of itself, especially considering they are related. They form quite an amazing picture, these two women – a pregnant Virgin and an expectant mother old enough to be a great-grandmother. Truly, nothing is impossible with God! And just as truly, God doesn’t take the easy or the expected, way. His ways are definitely not our ways; his thoughts certainly not our thoughts. And sometimes God’s way is simply bizarre.
But consider this for a moment: one is in the third trimester of her pregnancy even as she’s in the senior years of her life. And the other has just begun her pregnancy as a virgin. We might describe what occurs there in Zechariah’s house as an exchange between two prophets, two priests and two beautiful women.
The prophets would be John the baptizer and the baby Jesus – the greatest Prophet! We have heard again of John in this season of Advent – a voice crying out “repent” – a voice pointing to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – a voice literally used up to prepare His way. But here – even in the first months of his life – still in the womb of Elizabeth – he leaps to point to the presence of Jesus in the flesh. Elizabeth says, for behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.
As soon as Mary speaks her greeting, John leaps for joy in his mother’s womb. John is already preaching Christ, and he isn’t even born yet! So much for the common notion that life in the womb is somehow less than human or less than aware. Or that the Word of God can’t get there. Or that infants can’t believe. John was preaching! His mother Elizabeth was the Spirit-appointed interpreter.
The two priests in Zechariah’s house would be Zechariah and again the baby Jesus – our Great High Priest. Zechariah had been silent for six months because He had doubted Gabriel’s word in the temple that aged Elizabeth would conceive. The other Priest is the baby Jesus who is also the Sacrifice to be offered once for all for the sins of the world.
The two beautiful women in Zechariah’s house present quite a range in ages. They are not beautiful in the way our culture hypes outward appearance. The beauty of these two women had nothing to do with vainly looking at themselves and everything to do with trustfully looking to God’s promises. They were looking to the promised Messiah. They were reflecting the beauty of their beautiful Savior, now residing in Mary’s womb.
The first beautiful lady was Mary – probably still a teenager and engaged to Joseph. She found herself to be with child – yet a virgin. The angel had proclaimed that she had been chosen to be the Lord’s mother – that the conceiving of her child was by the Holy Spirit. She had received the news with striking humility saying, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
The second beautiful lady in our text is Elizabeth – past child bearing years yet with child. Mary’s news was greater than her own and yet Elizabeth’s heart was gladdened by Mary’s good news. Humbly honored she says, why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? She exhibited true beauty of character, beauty more precious than jewels.
Consider this scene! Neither of the two prophets present can speak. They are still both in the womb. Neither of the two priests present can speak. The infant priest Jesus is still in the womb. The elderly priest Zechariah will remain speechless until John is born. But oh what beautiful words these two beautiful ladies speak.
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth blesses her younger relative. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Mary is what every Israelite woman awaited, the mother of the Messiah. She is the counterpart to Eve. An ancient Promise is revisited and revealed. Through the seed of the woman comes salvation. “I will make enmity between you and the woman, between her seed and yours.” The seed of the woman. Man not involved here. Only the woman. Eve heard the doubting word of the devil and was deceived. Mary heard the Word of God, and she conceived. Her Child is the devil’s head crusher, the One who would make enmity with evil and conquer death by dying. You might say that Mary is the ultimate fulfillment of motherhood in bearing the promised Savior of humanity. Eve was the mother of all the living; Mary is the mother of the One who is Life and Light of all.
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” By the Spirit, Elizabeth looks beyond the outward scandal of a barely wed pregnant Virgin and sees blessing. I’m not so sure Mary feels terribly “blessed” at the moment, leaving a doubtful fiance and skeptical community. Her life has been turned upside down. Yet she is “blessed among women.” Most highly favored lady.
Luther was fond of saying that where the Gospel is there is also the cross. There is great and profound truth here. Something that we may not want to here within all the preciousness of what we call “Christmas.” Where Christ is, there will always be the cross. Blessing comes with the cross. Mary is blessed, yet she must bear the cross of being a virgin mother with all the scandal and doubt that this entails. And blessed also is the fruit of her womb. Her son Jesus. He is blessed too. Blessed to die. Blessed to bear the sins of the world. Blessed to be a blessing to all the world in HIs death. Mary, left with the blessing of the cross yet must watch it. Again, blessing and cross are joined together as one.
This is the very essence of the Christmas mystery – a great and mighty wonder. The Lord of the universe, the Word through whom all things were made, has a mother! The Word became Flesh and dwells among us. The eternal Son of God takes up residence in the finite confines of a mother’s womb. The fulness of deity dwells among us bodily. The Creator literally becomes the creature.
It had to be this way, for Jesus to literally be the Savior of all. His human nature embraces all our humanity, from the tiniest cluster of cells in a mother’s womb to His dying breath of the cross. Literally from the womb to the tomb, Jesus embraces the fulness of our humanity with the fulness of His divinity.
Elizabeth blesses Mary for her faith. Mary took the angel at his word, which was a Word from God Himself. She heard the Word and believed that God would do what He said, no matter how unlikely, how unreasonable it seemed. People weren’t ignorant then. They may not have known about molecular biology, but they knew the basic biology of the bird and the bees. They knew virgins do not conceive. It’s hard to believe.
Mary believed the Word of God. In this way, Mary is also a picture of every believer. She hears the impossible Word, that in her virginity she would conceive and bear a Son, who would be Immanuel, God with us, to save His people from their sins. And she responds as only faith can respond to the impossible Word of God. “Amen,” she says. “Let it be to me according to your Word.”
And that’s how it is with us. God says to us, “In this Son, Jesus Christ, you have life, you have forgiveness, you have peace, you are made right with God.” And faith simply says, “Yes. Amen. Let it be to me according to your Word.”
God says to us, this Baptism is your new life, the washing away of your sins, your rebirth and renewal, and faith says “Yes, Amen. Let it be to me according to your Word.”
Christ says to us, you are forgiven by these very words that you hear, and faith says, “Yes, Amen. Let it be to me according to your Word.”
Jesus says, “This is my body given for you. This is my blood shed for you.” And faith simply says in the way of Mary, “Yes, Amen. Let it be to me according to your Word.”
Dear Christian – amid all the reasons that keep you from physically leaping – among all the things that weigh down your heart and you mind in these days – here is cause for your heart to leap for joy! He is here today and each week to fill the hungry with good things! The miracle of the ages has occurred. God the Son was knit together in Mary’s womb – in our flesh!
We will soon celebrate the wonder of His birth – the children helping us do so today. He was born for one purpose that you might be lifted up from your low estate to rejoice in His presence for eternity! He is the mighty One who baptized you into His holy name! The rich He sends empty away but He fills the hungry with good things. If you are hungry for more strength, more leaping with joy, more magnifying of His name then come and eat, take and drink. “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Blessed are you, who in the way of Mary, believe the inconceivable wonder that her child is God’s Child is your Lord come to save you. Amen.