There have been a couple of occasions when the words almost came out of my mouth. There was the impulse to say something. But then I caught myself and didn’t.
There have been times when I have seen a woman, and her appearance made me think that she must be pregnant. Seeing this there has been the impulse to congratulate her and ask some questions. After all, as Christians we think a child is a blessing from God.
But each time I have stopped myself, because I had not yet received confirmation about the pregnancy from a source other than my own assessment based on her appearance. And this fact raised the possibility that by speaking I could have created one of the more awkward and embarrassing moments possible.
Imagine how mortified you would be if you said to a woman something like: “So when is your baby due?”; or, “Are you going to have a boy or a girl?”; or, “Congratulations on your pregnancy!” – only to have the woman respond, that no, she is not pregnant. Yikes!
In our text this morning, Mary did not have any such concerns as she greeted Elizabeth. For one thing, Elizabeth was six months pregnant and so certainly she looked pregnant in a way that left no doubt. Yet beyond this, Mary knew for sure because the angel Gabriel had announced it to her. He had said, “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.”
Yet incredibly, this was not even the most surprising thing that Gabriel had told Mary. He said, “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.
He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
The angel Gabriel told Mary that she was going to conceive and give birth to the one who would fulfill all of Israel’s hopes. She would give birth to the Davidic Messiah who would reign over Israel and provide the rescue and peace for which God’s people longed.
And that wasn’t even the part that was truly amazing. Mary was betrothed, but not married. She was a faithful Jew who followed God’s word. She wasn’t messing around before marriage. She was a virgin. And yet Mary clearly took the angel to mean that this was not something that was going to happen after she and Joseph were married, for she asked: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Gabriel replied, “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.”
Surely, Mary didn’t look pregnant. The angel had just announced to her that this would happen. We learn in our text that after Gabriel had visited her: “In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah.” The news of both women was something that had to be shared and celebrated.
Mary entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. Our text tells us, “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.” John moved inside of Elizabeth. The movement of a baby inside his or her mother is remarkable. The clear evidence of a little life inside the mother bears witness to what has happened and points to all that is to come.
John leapt in the womb of Elizabeth. Yet this was not a random movement. Instead it was a result of the very thing that Gabriel had told Zechariah, “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb.” Gabriel had announced Zechariah that John would be the prophet who would go before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah to make ready for him a people prepared.
John was already doing this in his mother’s womb – bearing witness to Christ. There was no doubt about this because we are told, “Elizabeth was 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. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.’” The Holy Spirit provides through Elizabeth the interpretation of what is happening.
It is a beautiful scene. The yet to be born John the Baptist bears witness to Jesus Christ who is also still in the womb of his mother. Certainly when hearing it we cannot but think of our nation today and the fact that children in the womb can be killed by abortion at any time up to the very moment of birth.
But what I want us to reflect upon tonight is how tiny God’s plan of salvation is. After all, there’s not much to see here – just two pregnant women with babies inside them. I want us to reflect upon the timing of God’s salvation. John the Baptist and Jesus have not yet been born. It will be some thirty years before John the Baptist appears in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. First, there will be years of living day in and day out in family life. There will be chores to do and parents to obey. There will be children to provide with food, clothing and the necessities of life.
Think about where you were in life thirty years ago tonight. Think about all that has happened since then. We see in our text that God is acting to save us. But it will happen in his timing. John the Baptist is already bearing witness to Christ but many years must pass before his full ministry occurs. Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God is in the world, but many years will pass before he is baptized by John in the Jordan River and begins his ministry.
It is hard to wait for things to happen according to God’s timing. We want things now. We want answers now. We get frustrated and angry, and even feel tempted to give up hope when days turn to weeks, and weeks turn to years.
In our text tonight we see the first meeting between John the Baptist and Jesus the Christ. God’s saving work looks tiny in our text. It is years from doing anything that looks like action to us. So we need to take a long look at this. We need to pay attention. Because often, this is how things look. God often works in ways that look the opposite of what they are. He works in ways that often take time.
We look at this scene knowing that John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan as the Spirit descended on Jesus and the Father said, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” We know that Jesus Christ made the journey to the cross for us and died as the sacrifice for our sin. We know that on the third day he rose from the dead, and then was exalted in his ascension into heaven.
This is what the baby in Mary’s womb in our text has done. This is the reason that John the Baptist leaps within Elizabeth in witness to him. Because we know this, we can trust God when his work seems small. We can trust him when his work seems to be slow. We can trust the triune God when we don’t know what the timing will be.