Sunday, July 2, 2023

Sermon for the Feast of the Visitation - Lk 1:39-45



Lk 1:39-45



          What kind of reception would Mary get?  The thought had to weigh on Mary’s mind as she made her way from Galilee to Judea.  Mary’s trip had been prompted by remarkable circumstances to say the least.  The angel Gabriel had appeared to Mary. She had told her that she was going to give birth to the Messiah. Gabriel had announced, “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."

Of course as a virgin who was betrothed but not yet married, this did not seem possible. However, Gabriel had told her, “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.”  Mary would conceive through the work of the Holy Spirit, and she would give birth to the Son of God.

          Then Gabriel had gone on to explain, “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.”  This too was amazing news.  Faithful Elizabeth had never been able to have a child, and now was too old to have one.  But Mary learned that God had acted to bless her with a child.

          This was joyous news!  And so Mary went with haste to visit her relative Elizabeth.  She went to celebrate Elizabeth’s pregnancy, but she had to wonder what kind of reception she would get if she shared her news.  Should she tell Elizabeth about her own pregnancy?  After all Mary was not married.  It certainly looked like she had broken the Sixth Commandment.  Would Elizabeth believe what Mary had to say about the pregnancy?

          Any concern that Mary had was immediately removed.  We learn that Mary entered the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth.  She greeted Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s child John leaped in her womb. Then Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 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.”

          Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. This means that the Holy Spirit caused her to make an inspired pronouncement.  She addressed Mary as the mother of her Lord, and explained that the child in her womb had leaped for joy because he was in the presence of Mary’s child.

          Elizabeth did not know that John was already fulfilling the words that Gabriel had spoken to Zechariah when he announced that John would be born. Gabriel had said that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb.  He had said that John would go before the Lord to make ready a people prepared.  Even in the womb, John was already the instrument of the Holy Spirit bearing witness to Jesus.

          Rather than condemning Mary or raising questions, Elizabeth provided a Spirit inspired acknowledgment of Mary and her child.  Then she concluded by saying, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”  She praised Mary who had believed the Lord’s word.

          Today we are celebrating the Visitation, as Mary went to see Elizabeth.  On the surface, this event is about Mary and Elizabeth.  But in truth, it’s really about Jesus and John meeting for the first time.  Even before birth, John is carrying out his role of bearing witness to Christ. And this points forward to the key role that John will play for Jesus.

          Jesus and John would meet again some thirty years later.  John would prepare the way for Christ by proclaiming a baptism of repentance.  He would be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” 

John called people to repent because God’s judgment was coming.  He was preparing the way for One more powerful than he.  John proclaimed, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Then Jesus came to John to be baptized by him.  The Spirit descended upon Jesus as a dove and God the Father said, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  With these words God identified Jesus as the Servant of the Lord.  At his baptism Jesus stepped into the place of sinful humanity. He became the Servant of the Lord – the suffering Servant of Isaiah chapter 53 who received God’s judgment in our place.

Jesus met John the Baptist at the Jordan in order to take on this role.  The baptism of our Lord pointed his ministry in only one direction – towards the cross.  By his death Jesus has redeemed us from sin.  Jesus was able to die because he was true man.  He was the child of Mary, born in this world. 

Yet Jesus was more than a man.  As we hear Elizabeth say by the Spirit in our text: “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  The baby in the womb of Mary was the Lord – the Son of God. The second person of the Trinity entered into our world in the incarnation.  Jesus came as the One who is true God and true man.  He came to be the sacrifice that alone could break the hold of sin.

Jesus was present in the womb of Mary as she met Elizabeth.  True God and true man, he was present in the flesh.  The Son of God had taken on humanity in order to die.  He bore our flesh in order to be the sacrifice that takes away sin.  Yet he also bore our flesh in order to do more than that.

Jesus came to die, but Jesus also came to rise from the dead.  By his resurrection our Lord has defeated death.  In his resurrection he has transformed humanity so that it can never die again.  He is the first fruits of our resurrection.  Jesus bore our flesh in order to pass through death and give us resurrection life in which we will never die again.  He has begun this in his own resurrection, and will give us a share in it when he returns in glory on the Last Day.

In our text, Elizabeth says, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”  Mary received a word from the Lord through Gabriel.  It was a word that turned her life upside down.  Yet she believed God’s Word and trusted him.  She trusted there would be a fulfillment of the Word and in faith she believed that God was at work in her life.

This is something that we often struggle to do.  We hear God’s Word that declares his forgiveness and continuing love for us.  Yet when illness arrives, or circumstances we didn’t plan on, we struggle to trust God. Our tendency is to doubt God’s Word.  We focus on what we see in life instead of God’s promises.  In doing so we sin for we fail to fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

Elizabeth’s words about Mary call us back to trust in God. We follow Mary’s example because the baby in her womb grew up to die on the cross and rise from the dead.  God has revealed the death and resurrection of Christ to us. In the midst of circumstances that appeared to be failure, God was working our salvation through the cross.  We know this because Jesus rose from the dead on Easter.  This allows us to trust in God in the midst of all the circumstances we don’t understand. The resurrection of Jesus shows us that God’s Word is true – his promise to care for us will not fail.

God’s Word teaches us how we are to view our life. And it also teaches us where we are to see life. In the Visitation the pregnant Mary meets the pregnant Elizabeth.  The unborn John bears witness to the unborn Jesus by leaping for joy in the womb.  Our text shows us that those in the womb are living children.

We dwell in a state that violates this basic fact as it allows and promotes abortion.  Sadly, every week children are being killed just down the road in Carbondale.  You do not have to be a Christian to believe that life begins at conception.  The scientific facts make this point.  But as Christians we are especially committed to confessing this fact. God’s Word teaches us that Jesus and John were individual human beings in the womb. This means that every unborn child is a human being. Each is a creation of God who needs to be cared for and protected.

The Son of God cared for us by entering into the world as an unborn child in the womb.  True God and true man, he was present when Mary visited Elizabeth.  John was present too, and while still in the womb, he began his prophetic ministry.  We see in our text that two meet before they are born, and this points forward to the day when they would meet at the Jordan River. 

Through John’s baptism, Jesus began his ministry that took him to the cross to win forgiveness for us.  Yet Jesus was in the flesh in order to defeat death and transform our humanity into one that can never die again.  He has done this through his resurrection, and this resurrection gives us confidence to trust in God no matter what is happening.  In the risen Lord we find the reason that we can follow in Mary’s steps as we trust God’s Word in the midst of all circumstances.


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