Saturday, December 18th and Sunday, December 19th
“A Visit from the Lord”
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be[e] a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Luke 1:9-45 NRSV
The narrative found in Luke 1:39-45, particularly in verse 41, is remarkable in several ways. It presents the actions of several persons who will be significant in the earthly ministry of Jesus, as they prepare for his birth and that of John the Baptist. In a very real sense, it can be said that those who we observe in this text are observing Advent for perhaps the first time.
Another remarkable thing about this account is that both Jesus and John are in secondary roles. Neither of them is named in the narrative. We are told that Mary is traveling to visit with Elizabeth, her cousin. The house is described as the house of Zechariah, the husband of Elizabeth. John is named as “the child” in verse 41. Elizabeth describes Jesus as “the fruit of your womb” in verse 42. Finally, in verse 43 she describes Jesus as “my Lord”. I am not speaking in protest of the location of any of the characters in the telling of the story. It is a story about Mary and Elizabeth. John and Jesus will become central and featured characters later. At this point, neither has even been born.
I want to look at all five characters: born or unborn, named or unnamed, in light of our Advent theme. That theme is “Imagine God’s Love Revealed”. Each of the characters is both a recipient and a messenger of this revelation.
Zechariah was someone who required assurance before buying into anything that was at odds with his previous understanding. He was initially skeptical about the news that he and Elizabeth were going to become parents. He thought that they were both too old for this. Later, when directed to name the child John, he balked. Nobody in his family had ever been named John. After God’s love was revealed by way of a bout with “Heavenly laryngitis”, Zechariah embraced the revelation and celebrated the love.
Elizabeth could have missed the realization of the revealing of God’s love. She was initially caught up in the usual kind of joy. We are not told if she knew that Mary was coming. The visit was a source of delight for Elizabeth, who clearly cherished her cousin. Usual left the scene when Elizabeth spoke with prophetic insight. Nobody told her that Mary would bear the Savior of the world; that is no mortal person. The Spirit of God let Elizabeth in on the secret and God’s love was revealed.
Mary was not experiencing a revelation when she went to visit. Although it is unclear is she was already expecting, she had been informed by an angel that she would carry the Messiah. Her Magnificat (song of praise) appears later in this chapter. In it, she revels in the love of God. For her, revelation of the profound significance of God’s gift would unfold throughout the earthly life of Jesus and for the rest of her life.
John would go on doing flips for Jesus. He preached the Gospel with a commitment to being in line with the ministry of Jesus rather than in the way of the ministry of Jesus. He asserted that he was unworthy to untie the sandals of Jesus. John spent his life proclaiming the revelation of God’s love. He never needed to imagine it.
Jesus was unable to avoid stealing the show. Although he enters this passage as the unnamed “fruit” of Mary’s womb, he emerges as everybody’s reason for their role in this narrative. Like John, we have no need to imagine. God’s love is displayed in clear view, and forever so. God’s love is revealed. Don’t imagine it. Deal with it.
Dr. Irvin W. Green
Co-Pastor Central Christian Church of Kettering