O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
How About a Visit
How About a Visit
Based on Luke 1:39-56
Preached on December 23, 2018
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Grace, mercy and peace to you, from God our Father and from His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Isn’t today’s Gospel reading just absolutely great? This coming together of two very unlikely mothers-to-be. One is old enough to be your grandmother and perhaps even your great-grandmother. Her name is Elizabeth. Her child, six months old in the womb, is John the Baptizer. The other woman is young, we’d probably call her a “girl”, but in her day she was a young woman ready to be married. Perhaps 16 or so. Her name is Mary.
From all outward appearances, Elizabeth’s pregnancy is the miraculous one. Who ever heard of a great-grandmother conceiving and bearing a child? The miracle of the second mother, however, is hidden to the eye, a matter of faith. She is a virgin, betrothed but not yet married to a man named Joseph. Against everything we know about reproductive biology, she too is pregnant. Not in the way most people would assume, but “by the Holy Spirit.” Her child is not just any child, but the incarnate second Person of the eternal, undivided Holy Trinity. God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.
And yet the world would not recognize this miracle. Everyone knows virgins don’t conceive. Joseph knew it too. His initial reaction was to call off the marriage in private and give Mary the opportunity to go and marry the rightful father. Because Joseph knew this much. Virgins don’t conceive. Old women like Elizabeth? Well, that’s strange. Weird even. Not something you really want to think about all too hard. But not outside the realm of conceivable.
What is inconceivable is that a Virgin would conceive and bear a son. It took an angel in a dream to convince Joseph that “that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” And Joseph had to believe this - over and against his reason, his common sense, and those sideways glances of the relatives and neighbors, yes, everything he knew. He had to trust the Word of the Lord through the angel and receive Mary as his pregnant bride knowing full well that the child was not his and trusting completely that this child was God’s.
What about you? Would you have believed Mary if she were your daughter or your fiance? Would you, like Joseph, have rearranged your whole life and all your expectations on the basis of a dream? You may not think about it – but you and I are confronted by the very same thing all the time – the Word of God versus our perception of things.
Our perception says “nothing but water,” but the Word says “Baptism, a washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” Our perception says “bread and wine,” but the Word says “This is my Body, this is my Blood.” Our perception says “sinner,” but the Word says, “Saint in Christ, forgiven, justified.” (slowly) We’re called to trust a Word of forgiveness and to rearrange our lives in its freedom. Our reason tells us that we have to make amends, we must atone for our sins, we must work our way into God’s favor, but the Word says, “I forgive you all of your sins.” Which one will you believe?
We look at Mary and we don’t know what to think. But the Word tells us what to believe. This is the God-bearer, the mother of the Son of God. In her womb is the infinite only-begotten. The eternal Word become flesh. Holy, holy, holy.
Is it any surprise then, that Mary goes off into the hill country to visit her cousin? Better hideout for awhile. People aren’t going to put the best construction on this. But carrying Jesus off into the hills doesn’t mean the action is going to stop now, does it? Luke tells us that when Mary approached Elizabeth’s house and Elizabeth heard the sound of Mary’s voice, John leaped for joy in Elizabeth’s womb. Not just the usual kick, but a leap of prophetic joy. John was preaching - in utero! That fact alone needs to be highlighted on several fronts. Let’s be done with this notion that you aren’t fully human until you’re born, as though human life in the womb is something less than human. Unborn John kicks in protest to that. And let’s be done with the notion that babies in utero have no relationship with the Word. Unborn John kicks in protest to that too.
Dear Christian women, the most important part of your pre-natal care is coming to the Divine Service regularly, to hear God’s Word, and eat and drink His holy body and blood with your unborn child. But the same holds true for all the little ones - even after they’re born. John kicks against all who would deny baptism to infants, those who would keep babies from Jesus. They need to hear God’s Word too, even before they know what all the words mean. They need to rejoice with unborn John in the sound of the forgiveness of sins. In the syllables of salvation. In the verbs that deliver eternal life. Yes, they will have all eternity to master it but the earlier they start, the better.
Think about it. You let your children sit in front of screens 24-7-365 soaking up all sorts of things. What your children need to be soaking up is the sound of God’s Holy Spirit-ed Word from the Bible, sung by the historic hymns and the faithful liturgy, and confessed with the ancient creeds and Small Catechism that have been handed down to the church. The unborn prophet John bounces for you to take notice.
Here is Christ – he says – still in the womb - “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the Sin of the world.” Barely conceived, and yet John rejoices over Him. Mary is barely “showing” at this point, and yet Jesus is fully Lord and Savior - even now.
John’s not the only one freaking out. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit too – words burst out of her too. But they’re not her words – they’re Spirit-led words, faith words, words that go far beyond what we can see and know for ourselves. She says them for us, that we would be clear in our thinking and believing.
She blesses Mary and her Child. “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. Blessed is Mary among women. I’m not so sure she 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.
Ladies, especially you younger women, you have a magnificent role model with Mary. The culture in which you live glorifies false Madonnas like the Kardashian sisters, Katy Perry and Rihanna in which chastity and virginity are mocked and demonized - while every form of sexuality outside marriage is exalted and enforced as the norm. Ladies, Mary stands out as a picture of what happens when God’s Word has its way with someone. Mary is filled with the Holy Spirit and God’s Word. She believes God. She trusts His Word. Her song of praise, the Magnificat, shows you that she knew the Bible by heart. She knew the psalms. She listened and trusted the sermon preached by Gabriel. She gave her “Amen” to the humanly impossible task of being the virgin mother of the world’s Savior! You can look up to her, and ask God to help you be like her.
Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? Elizabeth asks. An ancient Promise is revisited and revealed here. Through the seed of the woman comes salvation. “I will make enmity between you and the woman,” God said to the serpent, “between her seed and yours.” The seed of the woman. Man is not involved here. Only the woman. Eve was deceived and brought sin into the world. Mary believed and brought salvation into the world. Eve was the mother of all the living; Mary is the mother of the One who is Life for all. Eve bore a son from the Lord; Mary bore a son who is the Lord. Elizabeth’s Lord, her Lord, and your Lord.
“Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” And blessed are you, dear one, yes you, who believe that the Word of God is fulfilled in you, that by your Baptism into Christ Jesus you have overcome sin and death and now stand justified before God. 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.
Today we are confronted with two unlikely mothers – one very old, the other a virgin. With God nothing is impossible. In the Name of Jesus’, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr