[Isaiah 7:10-14; Luke 1:26-45]
Funny how modern-day Lutherans start to squirm a bit with too much Mary going on. St. Elizabeth must not have been a modern day Lutheran, for she is overjoyed when the Mother of God enters her house. At the very sound of the Blessed Virgin’s voice, the child in old Elizabeth’s womb, St. John the Baptist, does a somersault of joy. Thus, even before he is born, he is announcing the arrival of the King and testifying to the little heart that was already beating beneath Mary’s own. The heart of a Child who is truly God.
Elizabeth teaches us to understand the blessedness of Mary. St. Luke is clear that St. Elizabeth spoke by the Holy Spirit. So these are not just words of some long ago saint, but they are words prompted by the Holy Spirit himself and so words given us to treasure, to which we do well to give great heed.
First, she announces: “Blessed are you among women.” Blessed indeed, for never again and never before would there be a woman who became a mother and remained a virgin. The type that Isaiah had foretold had a bigger fulfillment than anyone could ever imagine. A virgin conceives and bears a Son. The hymns of Advent and of Christmas never cease to invite us to marvel over God’s chosen way of coming to rescue us. “Here a maid was found with child, Yet remained a virgin mild. In her womb this truth was shown: God was there upon His throne.” (LSB 332:3) “Thou cam’st the Bridegroom of the bride, As drew the world to eventide, The spotless Victim all divine, Proceeding from a virgin shrine. “ (LSB 351:3) “Of her Emmanuel the Christ was born, in Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn. And Christian folk throughout the world will ever say: Most highly favored lady, Gloria!” (LSB 356) Only in Mary do virgin and mother unite. Blessed among women.
But there’s more, and so St. Elizabeth cries out: “Blessed is the fruit of Your womb.” Do you get that one? The One promised so long ago to Abraham to bring blessing to all the peoples of the earth. The Blessed One is in Mary’s womb. The One who comes in the name of the Lord. The Blessed One is in Mary’s womb. She is the living Ark of God! For it is the Eternal Word of the Father who is growing day by day in her swelling womb. The heavens and the heavens of heavens cannot contain Him, and yet in love for us, He deigns to take up residence in Mary’s body so that she could give Him the flesh and blood by which He would bring blessing to all – by suffering and dying in that flesh to destroy death, to wipe out sin, to raise it from death incorruptible and to seat that flesh and blood that came from Mary at the right hand of the throne of God as the firstfruits - for we shall surely follow. This is the blessing – to raise humanity to what God intended for us from the beginning – that we might be His children, His heirs, sharing a life that never ends. Blessed indeed is the fruit of Mary’s womb, our Lord Jesus.
But St. Elizabeth is not done. There’s more. John the Baptist in her womb confessing the advent of his Lord no doubt put her in mind of it. I always picture St. Elizabeth cutting her eyes at old Zechariah sitting silent in the corner, but with eyes sparkling, as she pronounces the last blessing upon Mary: “Blessed is she who believed.” Unspoken, then, the words: “Unlike you, you old goat! See how silly you were? This maiden’s faith has shamed you.” And I don’t doubt for a second that old Zechariah was laughing silently right along with the two ladies. When Dr. Luther reflected on St. Elizabeth’s words, he opined that perhaps it was the last blessing that is the most amazing. That Mary should believe it. That she should receive such a shocking and incredible promise from God and say to it her great fiat: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be to me according to Your Word.” A miracle that a virgin should conceive. A miracle that the Child she bears is the Eternal Son destined for an Eternal Kingdom. But Luther thought perhaps the greatest miracle of the incarnation is that Mary believed it, said yes to it, gave space and time in her life to the God who begged entrance so that He might bring blessing to a world gone wrong.
People loved by God, do you see? The Holy Spirit doesn’t set Mary before you tonight for you to worship, for you to pray to and seek favor from. That would horrify her in the extreme. She is set before you for you to love. For as you love her Son, her flesh and blood, you cannot but help joining with St. Elizabeth in calling Mary blessed. Indeed, inspired by the same Spirit, the Mother of God would cry out: “From now on all generations will call me blessed.” Don’t worship her or pray to her, but do learn to love her. There is no need to fear her. She’s not in competition with her Son. But she is His mother.
Look at all the artwork of the Church from early years and you’ll see that they got it right. Invariably she holds forth her hand to her Son and directs all your attention from her to Him who made her blessed. Of all the gifts our Jesus gives us, we must not forget to bless and thank Him for His mother, and to ask that our faith might come to be like hers – a blessed faith that says “Yes, enter in” when God knocks.
Let us stand now and join the Mother of God in her hymn of praise, the Magnificat – for surely as He has done great things for her, so He has also done great things for us. And holy is His name. Amen.