Text: Luke 1:39-45
Gospel for the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (obs.)
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Do you like having visitors to your home? Some visitors are rather intrusive. They’re like your relatives at Christmas who remind you of Proverbs 25:17, “Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor’s house, otherwise the neighbor will become weary of you and hate you.” Other visitors are merely tolerated. You don’t enjoy them much, but you can get through it with God’s help. And, you usually feel good that you endured it. But some visitors refresh you. They are very welcome, and you come away as a better person. You are glad to roll out the red carpet for them because they stimulate you and leave you never the same. After they leave you feel like saying, “You know, that visit was really a blessing!” Our Gospel lesson is about two very unlikely mothers who end up together for a visit which was a great blessing.
The first of these two women was Elizabeth. Elizabeth was a senior citizen who never had any children of her own, and she was well past childbearing age. But, God likes to work the impossible. So, the Angel announced to Zachariah, Elizabeth’s husband, that despite her old age, she was going to give birth to a son, John the Baptist. The Angel prophesied that their son would be the one who would prepare the way for the long-expected messiah!
When Elizabeth was six months along in her amazing pregnancy, her teenage cousin from Nazareth named Mary was visited by that same Angel. The Angel announced to her, that despite her virginity, she was about to conceive the Son of God by the Holy Spirit. He also told her that Elizabeth, who had been barren, was already six months along! Mary went to visit Elizabeth. You can only guess what it would be like for a virgin to be pregnant with the messiah, while you’re engaged to a man who’s still scratching his head over the whole business. Best to leave town for a while and take up with relatives who would understand. If anyone would understand, and believe it, it was Elizabeth. They are really an amazing picture, these two women – an unwed pregnant Virgin, and a woman old enough to be a grandmother about to deliver her first born. Truly, nothing is impossible with God! And just as truly, God doesn’t take the easy, or the expected, way. His ways are not our ways; his thoughts not our thoughts.
When Mary arrived at Elizabeth’s house, she greeted Elizabeth. The sound of Mary’s voice caused John to leap for joy. There he was, a fetus barely six months old in his mother’s womb, and already he was exalting Christ! Consider that, the next time you are tempted to believe that the Word doesn’t work on little ones or that babies can’t believe! And who would argue that even unborn children cannot benefit by being in church and hearing the Word?
The same is true for all our little ones. They need to hear God’s Word even before they know what those words mean. Just because they cannot understand them doesn’t mean those words do not have an affect upon them.
I. Blessed is the Mother of my Lord
After hearing the greeting, Elizabeth confessed that Mary is blessed among women. She was what every Israelite woman aspired to be, the mother of the Messiah. She is the counterpart to Eve. Eve heard the doubt-full 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 war on Satan and conquer death by dying. Mary was going to give birth to the one whom our text from Isaiah foretold would “judge the poor with righteousness” “and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.” The long-awaited messiah was in Mary’s womb.
But it wasn’t just that Mary was going to be the mother of the Messiah. It’s more than that. Elizabeth calls Mary “the mother of my Lord.” The word “Lord” is used to refer to God. The Lord of the universe, the Word through whom all things were made, has a mother! Mary is the mother of God! This is the great mystery at the heart of the Christian faith: the Infinite God took up residence in the finite. God was a little cluster of fetal cells in the womb of His mother. The Creator became the creature, the fullness of the Deity dwelt bodily, assumed human nature, in the belly of His mother. That is why Mary is the most blessed among women, for as a Virgin she bore as the fruit of Her womb, the divine and eternal Son of God. We confess as much every time we call our Lord, Emmanuel, and confess that Mary is mother of Emmanuel, the Mother of the God who is with us.
II. Blessed is she who believed
But Elizabeth has more to teach us about the blessedness of Mary, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Elizabeth blessed Mary for her faith, for believing that the Lord would do what He said. Through the angel Gabriel, God had spoken a rather staggering promise to her. Mary heard the impossible Word, that in her virginity she would conceive and bear a Son, who would be Immanuel, God with us. This Son would save His people from their sins. She didn’t dispute that what the angel said would come to be, though she did ask for more information. She wasn’t like Zachariah, who doubted the angel’s word and received muteness until the Word proved true. No, she responded as only faith can respond to the impossible Word of God. “Amen,” she said. “Let it be to me according to your Word.”
This is the greatest part of the miracle of the annunciation: not that a Virgin would conceive; not that her Child would be true God, but that the Blessed Mary would believe it. So, Mary conceived our Lord “through her ear.” That’s the greatest miracle of all – and it brings us to the heart of Mary’s true greatness – a greatness in which God invites us all to share.
Elizabeth shared in this greatness. She believed that the baby in Mary’s womb was her Lord! Elizabeth considered it a great honour to be visited by Mary. So, this is the answer to Elizabeth’s question, “Why has this happened to me?” It has happened to you, Elizabeth, because you believed the Lord.
III. Blessed are we who believe
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 have everything in fullest measure.” And faith simply says, “Yes. Amen. Let it be to me according to your Word.” And that is still what makes us blessed. Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe! Mary did not see but she believed. She has become the model of our own faithful believing. Faith trusts God even when his Word seems impossible to us! Faith trusts God’s impossible Word that the bread and wine are really the Body and Blood of Jesus. Faith trusts God’s impossible Word that through the words of a pastor your sins can be forgiven. Faith trusts God’s impossible Word that through water your sins can be washed away. Faith says, “Amen. Let is be to me according to your word.”
Additionally, everything that happened in this account was a response to the presence of God in the flesh – the Baby inside Mary. First Elizabeth recognized the presence of God inside Mary, then the child in her womb miraculously leaps. She interpreted this as an expression of joy, and she was filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth proclaimed that Jesus in the womb of Mary was the source of her blessedness. Mary is blessed because of the presence of Christ in her just as we are blessed because Christ dwells in us. Christ in Mary is the source of her blessing, just as Christ in us is the source of every blessing.
Through faith Christ dwells in your hearts. This God who was born of Mary really, yet mysteriously, unites himself to you. His presence in you gives you righteousness, eternal life, and everything in Christ. His presence in you gives you the ability to live a new life, a life no longer characterized by sin, but one characterized by loving God and your neighbour. As Luther wrote,
“True faith takes hold of Christ in such a way that Christ is the object of faith, or rather not the object but, so to speak, the One who is present in the faith itself. Therefore, faith justifies because it takes hold of and possesses this treasure, the present Christ. (LW 26.129) “Through faith in Christ, therefore, Christ’s righteousness becomes our righteousness and all that he has becomes ours; rather, he himself becomes ours.” (LW 31.298) “Christ and I must be so closely attached that He lives in me and I in Him. What a marvelous way of speaking! Because He lives in me, whatever grace, righteousness, life, peace, and salvation there is in me is all Christ’s; nevertheless, it is mine as well, by the cementing and attachment that are through faith, by which we become as one body in the Spirit. Since Christ lives in me, grace, righteousness, life, and eternal salvation must be present with Him; and the Law, sin, and death must be absent. (LW 26.168)
“Blessed is she who believed.” Will you share this blessedness of Mary? Will you believe, will you trust the promises of God to you? For though you are lowly, God would raise you on high. Dear Christian, baptized believer, magnify the Lord. Rejoice in God your Savior, the holy Child born to Mary. For the Mighty One has done great things for you; holy is His name. He has blessed you with every blessing in Christ, and all those blessings are yours through faith because Christ is yours through faith.
And may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.