Fourth Sunday in Advent (Rorate Coeli)—23 December 2018

5212053Our text is from today’s Gospel (Luke 1:39–56):   39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah,  40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit,  42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.  45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”  

46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.  For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49  for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.  50  And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.  51  He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; 52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.  54  He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” 

56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home. (ESV)  

Here we are, in today’s Gospel, with two pregnant women.  Two mothers. But these are not ordinary pregnancies.  Rather, the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, has been at work.  Stirring up His power.

How?  Through the Word preached by the angel Gabriel!  Yes, these two women—who should not be pregnant—are both carrying a child! And all this happens according to the Holy Spirit-filled Word of promise proclaimed by the angel!

Mary is a virgin!  Nonetheless, a baby is growing in her belly! And take a look at Elizabeth, Mary’s relative.  Do you see the wrinkles and the white hair?  But take another look. See her mid section?  Yes, that’s right! This  Elizabeth—of whom Luke had written that she and her husband Zechariah had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years (1:7)—this Elizabeth is now pregnant, in her second trimester already!  Heavy with child she is!  These two pregnancies proclaim that with God anything is possible!

 

Mary the Virgin carries the Christ, the Saviour of the world—Baby Jesus—in her belly.  Elizabeth bears the last prophet, who bridges the Old Testament and New Testament—John the Baptist.  These are huge miracles!  A virgin teenager and a barren old woman are both expecting.

Gabriel informed Mary that Elizabeth was in her sixth month.  And so Mary goes to pay her a visit.  We call it The Visitation.  A three-month Visitation!  We are given to hear only the beginning of the visit.

When Mary arrives, she greets her cousin.  As soon as her greeting goes into Elizabeth’s ears, the baby in the old woman’s womb leaps.  Yes, the little one jumps for joy!  And Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit.  Now, it is a common thing for babies to roll and jostle around in the womb—babies do that all the time.  But Elizabeth’s baby leaping at Mary’s greeting is significant.  Already John the Baptist—six months in the womb—is bearing witness to the Christ!  The Christ in Mary’s womb!

This is a profoundly prophetic moment, a fulfillment of God’s promises to His people.  No wonder Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit.  The Spirit is at work.  Just as God promised in the Old Testament to Abraham and all his descendants.  The forerunner of the Messiah is here.  The Messiah Himself is here.  And what a wonder—that the forerunner and the Messiah are here together as babies in the bellies of their mothers.

 

The sound of Mary’s voice gives great joy to the six month old unborn baby.  He jumps for joy.  The Saviour has come!  He is here on the earth!  In Mary’s womb. And John believes it.  John rejoices in being in the presence of his Saviour.  This teaches us two things.

First, unborn babies are humans.  The unborn are not just blobs of tissue.  They are babies from the very moment of conception.  Life begins there; we are fully human from the moment of conception.  That is how God created you.  He knit you in your mother’s womb through your parents.  The barely six-month old fetus John and the just conceived by the Holy Spirit Jesus are babies. They are humans. A blob cannot worship or be worshipped. Clearly, then, the fetus John is not a blob but a human leaping for joy in the presence of the just conceived Jesus, who also is not a blob but a human, the Incarnate Son of God. 

Second, babies can and do believe!  Babies benefit from hearing God’s Word—even in the womb.  John the Baptist leaps for joy and Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit at the voice of Mary’s greeting.  How much more do we leap for joy when we hear the living voice of Christ Himself through His Word!

Perhaps the best counsel pastors could give to pregnant women is that they come to church!  Yes, pregnant women should bring their unborn children regularly to the Divine Service, where sinners hear the Gospel and feed on our Lord’s holy Body and Blood.  The Word of God does not return void. And so, even before they are baptized, unborn babies can benefit from receiving the Gospel in the Divine Service. Yes, receiving the Gospel already in the womb prepares one to continue receiving the Gospel one’s whole life long! 

In today’s Gospel, Mary greets Elizabeth.  And Elizabeth blesses Mary and the Baby Jesus she carries.  Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit [the child] of your womb!  Mary is blessed.  God chose her to bear the Saviour.  And she receives what God gives.  She trusts.  She has faith.  She believes in what God promises and gives through His Word.

Mary is the bearer of the eternal Word, the mother of the Christ, the Son of God. She is the door through whom God entered our world in the flesh. She is the temple in which the Savior chose to dwell as a tiny unborn Child. She is God’s chosen and honoured instrument through whom the Son of God received His Body that He would offer on the cross for the life of the world. Yes, Mary is rightly to be blessed among women and blessed by all generations to come!

All Christian women, perhaps most of all young Christian women, have a magnificent role model with Mary. The culture in which we live glorifies false Madonnas—movie stars and pop singers who mock chastity and virginity and who exalt abortion, premarital sex, homosexuality, and transgenderism. In stark contrast, 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 to and trusted in the sermon preached by Gabriel. She gave her “Amen” to the humanly impossible task of being the virgin mother of the world’s Saviour!

And Elizabeth is also honoured: “How has it happened that the mother of my Lord has come to pay me a visit?”.  She is astounded, stunned and amazed.  Elizabeth rejoices that Mary is the mother of my Lord.  Did you catch that?  “Mary, you are the mother of my Lord and my God!”  The Second Person of the Holy Trinity becomes incarnate, takes on flesh through Mary.  That is why the early Christians called Mary “Theotokos,” the bearer of God, the mother of God!

Why?  Because the Baby in Mary’s womb is the Word made flesh, the eternal Son of God!  Consequently, Mary is called Theotokos, bearer of God, the mother of God, that is, the mother of Jesus who is God.  This name given to Mary is not supposed to call attention to Mary but to extol and glorify the Baby she bears.

The Baby in her belly is the Lord!  Immanuel!  This Baby topples nations.  He brings down rulers from their thrones.  Name them:  Pharoah/Egypt, Nebuchadnezzer/Babylon, Alexander the Great/Greece, the Caesars/Rome, the Hitlers, Stalins, Mussolinis and Pol Pots.  Even our country will pass away one day.  The Baby who is the Lord of all is the One who scatters the proud in their conceit.  He brings the mighty down from their thrones. He brings down not just mighty rulers but also proud sinners who refuse to repent.  He, Baby Jesus, is the Lord of heaven and earth.

And yet He condescends to be a Baby.  He comes as a Baby to be the Saviour for all nations!  For all peoples!  Even for you!  Such a Saviour is to be worshiped and praised.  And so Mary breaks out: My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.  Notice that Mary says My Saviour.  Yes, Mary too, like you, me and everyone else in the world, needs this Saviour.  Mary too needs to be saved.  And Jesus is the One to do it.  He alone!

Mary sings of God’s wonderful gift of salvation wrapped up in the Child growing in her womb. That Child is her Saviour, of whom she sings:  the Mighty One has done great things for me,…Holy is His Name.  Generations call Mary blessed because she believed God’s Word spoken to her.  She is also called blessed because God used her body as the vessel, the instrument, the means for the eternal second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son, to be born into the world to save sinners.

Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary to save sinners—to save Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah, to save you and me, to save a world of sinners in need of salvation.

Jesus is Mary’s Saviour. And He is your Saviour and the world’s Saviour! And that is why Mary’s soul magnifies the LORD. That is why her spirit rejoices in God her Saviour. She directs your attention to Jesus—her Child!  She teaches you to worship Jesus in humility and fear, for His mercy extends to those who fear him.

Mary teaches you to receive God’s gift of salvation in Jesus through faith. She reminds you that God is the One who keeps His Word. He remembers to “be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as He spoke to our fathers.” God keeps His promises. The promise of a Saviour He made to Adam and Eve after they sinned and to the patriarchs and prophets of Israel. The promise He made to you when you were baptized. The promise He renews whenever you hear His word of forgiveness. The promise to fill the hungry—those who repent of their sins—with the good things of Jesus and His salvation.

Finally, Mary is a picture of all baptized believers in Christ. You, the believer, are virgin pure and holy, washed by the blood of Jesus that cleanses every spot and stain of your sin. Jesus has cleansed your heart with His blood. Now, Jesus chooses to dwell in you, to make your body His temple, to be conceived and born in your hearts.

With blessed Mary, you too are blessed. Blessed are you—you who believe that what the Lord has said to you, is true and reliable. Most certain.

For the sake of the Child conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary—for Jesus’ sake—God forgives you.  God has indeed triumphed over sin, death, and the devil through the flesh of Jesus.  And with that Body He goes to the cross.  Yes, the Child born of Mary raises up His mighty arms, stretches them out to be nailed, and dies for you, that you may live forever in heaven as God’s dearly loved children.  And that is the whole reason for the season of Christmas! Thanks be to God! Amen.