Advent 4 – "Mary's Greeting to Elizabeth" – Luke 1:39-45 – 12/20/15

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Every year about this time I become particularly consumed with the sin of ‘envy.’ I ‘envy’ those who completed all of their Christmas shopping weeks or even months ago, and who are able to sit back and relax and enjoy the holiday, while I am in full panic mode, trying to find the perfect gifts and get them wrapped and delivered in time.

As unnecessary as it may be to say this, God ways are not my ways. God had the perfect gift in mind before the Creation of the world, and He delivered it nine months before Christmas, all beautifully wrapped in the womb of a young woman named Mary. “Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.”

“And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’ And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

“And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

And Mary “arose and went WITH HASTE into the hill country of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.” Mary was carrying a Christmas present for her cousin, and for the whole world. It wasn’t actually her Christmas present to the world. It was God’s. Mary was just the delivery girl. But no delivery girl or boy has ever had the honor of delivering such a gift to the world as did Mary.

By why the great rush? Why does Mary arise and go WITH HASTE to see cousin Elizabeth?

Some think that Mary left Nazareth WITH HASTE before anyone could discover that she was pregnant. If a good Jewish girl were found to be pregnant out of wedlock, it would be scandalous and could even be deadly.

Some think Mary rushed off to Elizabeth’s because she needed another woman to talk to. Men just don’t understand these things.

A much better reason for why she left Nazareth WITH HASTE than either of these two is that Mary believed the angel’s word to her about cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy. The angel gave Mary a sign by which Mary could verify that the unbelievable news of her own pregnancy was perfectly believable.

Mary could have written the whole thing off. How utterly ridiculous that either she or her elderly cousin Elizabeth should be pregnant. Biology is biology… and she had never… and Elizabeth could never… But the angel said they were.

So, Mary went WITH HASTE to see Elizabeth according to the word that was told her, EITHER because SHE BELIEVED IT, or she was WILLING to believe it if the ‘sign’ she was given proved to be true.

The same thing happens with the shepherds in the fields nine months later. The angel appears to them and tells them the “good news that shall be for all people.” “And this shall be a sign to you. You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And again, St. Luke reports, “And they went WITH HASTE and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12-16).

They EITHER BELIEVED the word that was told them or they were WILLIING TO BELIEVE it if the sign they were given proved to be true.

I wonder if we might not give both Mary and the shepherds a bit too much credit to say that they believed without a doubt and they WENT WITH HASTE in complete confidence that the message they had received was absolutely true. I’m not saying that this couldn’t be the case. It’s just that it’s not the way it normally works is it?

There’s a distinction to be made between OBJECTIVE and SUBJECTIVE faith.

OBJECTIVE FAITH is all about knowing the facts of the faith. “I believe in God.” That’s ‘objective faith.’ “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” “I believe that Jesus Christ is God of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, fully God and fully man.’

That’s OBJECTIVE FAITH. It’s the faith that knows the facts of the faith and says, ‘I believe that they are true.’

SUBJECTIVE FAITH has to do with that inner certainty and trust in God. Objective faith is about the head. Subjective faith is about the heart. The ‘facts of the faith’ don’t change, but the ‘trust of the heart’ sure does. Sometimes it’s bold and confident and sometimes it’s weak and cowardly. Sometimes it’s living and active and sometimes it’s comatose.

And the thing that causes the trust of the heart to either increase or decrease is our WILLINGINGNESS TO BELIEVE at least enough to GO AND SEE. OR our UNWILLINGNESS to even GO AND SEE.

God Himself puts it like this through His prophet Malachi, “Test me in this and see if I am not willing to open the gates of heaven and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” (Mal.3:10).

If you are WILLING TO BELIEVE and TEST THE LORD, you’ll see that His Word is true and never fails – just as Mary saw, just as the shepherds saw. And with each RISK IN FAITH, our trust and confidence in God’s Word increases and grows and our FAITH gets stronger and stronger.

And if we’re not WILLING TO BELIEVE enough to TEST THE LORD, then our confidence and trust gets weaker and weaker.

The point is, ‘SUBJECTIVE FAITH’ is not something magical that just happens apart from works. FAITH AND WORKS GO TOGETHER. FAITH gives us the courage to GO AND SEE. And GOING AND SEEING strengths our FAITH because God’s Word and Promise never fails.

Mary went WITH HASTE to see her cousin Elizabeth. Let’s try to picture it the scene as St. Luke records it. Mary packs her bag for the journey from Nazareth to the “hill country of Judah” where Elizabeth lives.

“Nazareth” is in the region of Galilee to the north. The “hill country of Judah” is to the south.

I consulted a ‘bible atlas’ to try to see just where this “hill country of Judah” is located. Turns out it’s what we might call a ‘county’ that contains several towns and villages. One town in the ‘hill country of Judah’ caught my attention. It was the little town of Bethlehem.

Now whether Elizabeth and Zechariah actually lived in Bethlehem or not is hard to say for sure one way or the other. But surely they lived nearby. So as Mary leaves Nazareth in Galilee to visit Elizabeth in Judah, unbeknownst to her, she was making a dry run of a very similar trip that she will make again just 9 months later.

Luke writes, “she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.” It seems odd that she didn’t greet Zechariah too, but keep in mind, Zechariah has been mute ever since he doubted the angel’s word to him about his wife’s pregnancy.
Mary “greeted Elizabeth.”

And we want to know, how did Mary greet Elizabeth? What was Mary’s ‘greeting’ that had such an effect, not only on Elizabeth but also on the baby in Elizabeth’s womb who also heard it?

At first it seems as though Luke may have omitted it and we are left to wonder what word could have such an effect on those who heard it. But Luke does not omit Mary’s greeting to Elizabeth.

Upon seeing the bulging belly of her aged cousin, confirming the word of the angel, Luke write, “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. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

Now we can understand why Elizabeth responds as she does as well as the baby she is carrying. Mary greets Elizabeth with the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.

“And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.” The gospel creates faith in the hearts of those who hear it. And even the fetus in Elizabeth’s womb can ‘hear’ the gospel.

This is why, when you bring your fetus to the railing with you, we announce the blessing to him or her, trusting that just as John heard Mary’s greeting, so will they, and FAITH COMES BY HEARING.

We already know who Elizabeth’s baby is. He is John, the one who will “go before the Lord to prepare His way, to give His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.” As the angel told Zechariah, “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, EVEN FROM HIS MOTHER’S WOMB.” (Luke 1:15).

Already while he is still SAFELY PROTECTED in his mother’s womb, John points his finger to Jesus who is still SAFELY PROTECTED in His mother’s womb, and Elizabeth felt it.

Talk about not being able to wait until Christmas, John the Baptist begins his ministry while he is still in-utero. And his first congregation consists of his mother and father, his aunt and HIS COUSIN WHO IS ALSO HIS LORD.

And Luke writes, “And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” No kidding. With this much gospel going on how could anyone NOT be “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? For behold, when the sound of YOUR GREETING came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”

It wasn’t just Mary’s presence that caused John and Elizabeth to be filled with the Holy Spirit. It was Mary’s greeting. Faith comes by hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ.
Some 30 years later this same John would leap for joy once more when his cousin who came to him in the ‘hill country of Judah,’ comes to him in the wilderness around the Jordan River. Once again, John will point his finger at Jesus and speak his GREETING, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

Elizabeth praises her cousin saying, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” All of the genealogies in the Old Testament that record that ‘this one’ begot ‘that one’ find their fulfillment in the seed of the woman named Mary.

The proper way to praise and honor Mary is not to elevate her to equal or greater status as the Lord whom she carries in her, but to believe as Mary believed. “Let it be to me according to your word.”

We honor Mary, the mother of God, when we make her greeting our own. “He who is mighty has done great things for me…”
 He has redeemed me from sin, death and the devil.
 He has forgiven me all of my sins.
 He has made peace by His blood with the Father on my behalf.
 He has made me His brother and the right to be called, ‘child of God.’

 As He came to Zechariah and Elizabeth and John hidden in Mary’s womb, He now comes to me, hidden in the bread and wine, and greets me with, ‘take and eat, this is my body. Take and drink, this is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.’ And we leap for joy, for “He who is mighty has done great things for me…”

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