In the name of the Father, and of the † Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
St. Luke 1:39-45 39 Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… Immediately upon hearing the announcement of the angel – after conceiving the Son of God in her womb by the Holy Spirit – Mary next journeyed into the hill country of Judea to visit her cousin. What a mystery that this very first meeting of our Lord and John the Baptist should take place while they were both still in the womb!
This event has enormous significance, for it shows how the womb of the Virgin had become the very place of God’s presence among His people. Even as the Ark of the Covenant was once greeted with “shouts of joy,” so also the Baptizer, though yet unborn, rejoices at the presence of our Lord in Mary’s womb. Even as David was once terrified by the presence of God’s holiness, so also was Elizabeth astonished by what was taking place in her womb. And finally, even as the Ark stayed in the hill country for months, so also was the length of Mary’s stay with her cousin. As the temporary, portable vessel housing the presence of the One True God in the flesh, Mary appeared to be fulfilling the ultimate purpose of the Ark of the Covenant.
It is difficult for us, living as we do in this present age, to realize just how earth-shattering the news of Mary’s journey would have been for the Jews who read these words from Luke’s Gospel. Remember, they believed that God dwelt only in the Temple. But now the evangelist was telling them of God’s presence in Mary and how, like the Ark, God was journeying through the land, visiting those who were His own with the first of His people being Elizabeth, and John who leapt in his mothers’ womb because the Holy Spirit had informed him of the nearness of the Lamb of God whose Person and work he would later announce!
This leaping in his mother’s womb by John beautifully foreshadows the later miracles of our Lord Christ who would cause all creation to shudder at His presence – as the blind received sight, the lame walked, lepers were healed, the deaf regained their hearing, the dead rose, and the Good News was preached to the poor. John leapt because of the presence of the Creator – this One who had come to a creation forever locked in the bondage of sin; who had come in human flesh to stand in our place as the Bearer of the bondage of this fallen creation.
This yet unborn Child in Mary’s womb would one day take upon Himself sickness, demon possession, sin and death in His final pilgrimage to the cross – where, in the darkness of Good Friday, all creation would shake and groan as He brought about new life through suffering and death. His final words, “It is finished,” proclaimed that this new creation, begun with His conception, and announced by John when He leapt in Elizabeth’s womb, was now completed.
After a Sabbath’s Day rest in the tomb, Jesus would rise on the third day as a ringing declaration that He has made all things new! And that brings us full circle back to Elizabeth as she sang the first hymn of the New Testament to Mary in the knowledge that she was bearing in her own body the very Son of God.
As Elizabeth sang of Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the Fruit of your womb,” she became the first of millions upon millions who would worship the Christ Child. Therefore, ever since the time of Elizabeth’s song, the Church has imitated her worship by singing in the liturgy, because God is present also among us with His gifts! In fact, the Church continuously celebrates the presence of the Bridegroom in her midst as He comes to give her His gifts – as He comes to teach Her about the new creation – and as He causes her to celebrate the presence of this recreated world through the Meal of the new creation, The Lord’s Supper.
Now, every time we gather to hear the Word of God and receive the body and blood of His Son, He is bringing us into that new creation. What better reason to sing with Elizabeth, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the Fruit of your womb?”
Mary’s blessedness was an act of divine grace which God had given her as a gift. She was blessed not because of anything she did or who she was, but because of the presence of Christ in her womb, even as the Church is blessed because Christ dwells in Her midst. Mary was blessed because she grasped by faith the promises of God coming to fulfillment in her. She was the very vessel containing the Son of God; and for centuries, until Rome decided to deify her with their unscriptural understanding of who she was, Mary represented the Church, because like the Church, she bore in her womb the very presence of God in Christ. And again, like the Church, she was therefore able to confess: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)Mary was the first among many to believe that God’s promise to become flesh for our redemption was coming to fulfillment through the Child in her womb. As the affirmation of one who had received Catechesis from the angel – what we heard last week – Mary’s believing words not only fulfilled Luke’s purpose in writing this Gospel, but also pointed the way for Theophilus, Luke’s dear friend, and all who would later confront the fleshly presence of God in the preaching and sacraments of the Church wherein God even now dwells.
As modern day “hearers of the Word,” you and I continue in the footsteps of Mary as we also receive in faith the gifts of life, salvation, and forgiveness that come from our Lord’s Catechesis and teaching. It is this teaching which leads God’s people down that narrow road to our own death and resurrection in the waters of Holy Baptism, and then continues on as we enter His new temple to sit at table with Him along with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the saints.
It is as hearers of the Word that we learn what it means to be like Christ: to forgive as He has forgiven, and to show mercy and compassion for those who need our help. As “hearers of the Word” we are to continue bringing His gifts to the world by being little “Christs” to our neighbor.
The visitation of Mary, then, reminds us how, through the holy ministry of His Church, Christ continues to visit and be present among His people. As Mary carried the Savior within her own body, so the Church continues to carry the presence of Christ both in His Word, and in the blessed Sacraments.
This same Christ who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary still dwells here among us. This Nave, this sanctuary and altar area, this worship space, is like the hill country of Judea in that the same Jesus who dwelt there now dwells here. This same Jesus who was conceived in Mary’s womb, and who caused John to leap in the womb his mother now dwells here with His gifts of grace.
This Jesus, who walked the streets of Israel bringing a new creation through preaching and miracles, now resides among us, bringing about His new creation through the teaching of His Word, and through His miraculous presence in, with, and under bread and wine.
Dear friends, the season of Advent is our journey to Bethlehem where we remember anew how our Lord was born in humility to save us from our sin. Journeying with Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem causes us to contemplate once again our own journey, its joys, its sorrows, its triumphs and tragedies. Yet, no matter where our journey might bring us, we know ultimately that it began in Christ, at the font, where He joined Himself to us forever, and that it continues with Christ as He nourishes us along the way with the food of His Word and the food of His flesh – and that it will end with Christ as we await our blessed end when we will join Him and all the saints in heavenly splendor.
But for now, as we wait for Christmas and His Second Coming, we join once more with Elizabeth and all the saints, and sing with joyful voices that first hymn to Mary, the mother of God: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”
In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.