The Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 19-20, 2009
Text: Luke 1:39-45
Dear Friends in Christ,
St. Luke was a well educated man, who was also a careful writer. He is the most skilled writer of the New Testament, often deliberately changing his writing style in various parts of his writings. In about 150 B.C. seventy Jewish scholars in Alexandria Egypt translated the Old Testament into Greek from the original Hebrew. The translation is called the Septuagint, and it is the translation of the Old Testament used in the New Testament and in the early church. The Septuagint is a strange and quirky translation, often using words that you wouldn’t expect. Luke, in chapters 1&2 of his gospel emulates the style of the Septuagint. In chapter 3 he breaks into what would have been a common contemporary Greek style. This even come through in translation, giving these early chapters their familiar character and cadence.
Our text is a familiar one, as are all the Gospel readings this time of year. It takes place just after the Angel Gabriel visited Mary. It also takes place in the sixth month. Many people have puzzled over that - the sixth month of what? This where you need to read Luke 1&2 as a continuous narrative. If you do that, it is obvious. The sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Mary goes and visits her cousin, Elizabeth, and remains with her in Judea for three months. A little simple math leads to the conclusion that Mary was present for the birth of John the Baptist. A question that must be asked, that cannot be answered with certainty, is if Mary had already planned to visit Elizabeth, or if she decided to make the trip only after the angel appeared to her. I suspect that she may have already been planning this trip. She was there to assist her elderly cousin during her pregnancy. This would not be an unusual thing to do, to help a family member. Remember that though Mary was young, perhaps twelve or thirteen, she was considered marriageable and therefore had to be ready to run a household. My mother often talks about this same thing happening on the farms in Michigan where she grew up. Many families would hire a neighbor girl of about that age to help when a women had a baby.
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. Here we see Mary arriving. It says it was in a town in Judah. Now this was probably a small place. Perhaps a couple hundred people lived there. Perhaps it was even smaller. This is where the grassland is going into desert. So it was not an area that could support large populations. The key here is the statement that the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps when they heard Mary’s voice. John the Baptist was a prophet while still in his mother’s womb. This fulfills the words spoken by the angel in Luke 1:15. John recognized the voice of the Bearer of God. More importantly, he recognizes that he is in the presence of the Lord.
Much is written about Mary. Much needs to be said. There are also some things said of Mary that are idolatrous and blasphemous. At the Council of Nicea, Mary was given the title “Theoktos.” That Greek word is often rendered “Mother of God” but a closer rendering would be bearer of God. She is the one who carries God within her and bears Him into the world. She does not contribute anything to His godhood, only to His humanity. So Mary’s glory is always a borrowed glory. All generations call her blessed only because God has done great things to her. Thus, John leaps in his mother’s womb, not because Mary is present, but because the unborn Christ is present.
And 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?” Here now Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. One presumes that she had not heard, by human means, that Mary was to be the mother of the Christ, the bearer of God. She knows, perhaps for the first time at that moment, through the Holy Spirit. Notice here a couple things. First Elizabeth calls Mary Blessed, but immediately connect that blessed state to the Child she is carrying. Then she calls Mary the mother of her Lord. The Greek word is Kyrios. That’s a little bit of a slippery word. It can mean several things. But it would be the Greek word used to translate the Hebrew Yahweh, the Old Testament proper name for God. I think that is how we should see this here. Elizabeth is saying that Mary is the mother of Yahweh.
“And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Here Elizabeth is poking a little at her husband Zechariah. This statement is contrasting the two responses to Gabriel’s appearance. Zechariah doubted and was struck dumb, but Mary believed. Here we see the model of faith. We too should hear the Word and believe. In this Mary is the model for all Christians.
In Genesis 4:1 we read Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying “I have gotten a man who is the Lord.” Most translators are scared to render it that way. But that is exactly what the Hebrew says. Luther and many other commentators agree with this view. Eve thought that she had given birth to the Messiah. Cain turned out to be the first murderer. It would be about four thousand, give or take, before the Second Eve would bear the Second Adam. Mary becomes all women, reduced to one. She carries the hopes of all women and men in her womb. Just as Mary, in fulfilling her role, became all women reduced to one, her Son would be all men reduced to One. So that just as sin entered the world through one man, so also through One Man, Jesus Christ, the sin of the world is atoned. This is why Mary and Elizabeth were so overjoyed at the presence of their God, the Man Jesus.