Summary: Blessed Hope though: 1) Personal Confirmation (Luke 1:39–40), 2) Physical Confirmation (Luke 1:41a, 44), and 3) Prophetic Confirmation (Luke 1:41b–43, 45).
So far in 2015, 14,472 Albertans have lost their jobs in group layoffs. Everybody expects more layoffs to come. Earlier this month, the Calgary Herald asked people to share their stories about being laid off. Some wrote of worsening financial hardships. Others wrote of desperately trying to sell homes in a bad real estate market because they could no longer pay the mortgage. Others were stunned to find themselves at the food bank. New graduates fear they will never get a job in their field. Some fear they are slipping into depression. (http://business.financialpost.com/news/energy/laid-off-calgarians-losing-hope-as-prospects-dwindle-and-money-runs-short)
The news of continual declining oil prices has meant shock and layoffs. Yet some cling to hope for times to come in spite of such shocking news. People are looking for a sign of hope. In Luke 1, Elizabeth was a sign of hope for the troubled nation of Israel. The sign, communicated by the Angel Gabriel, was another conception miracle. Luke’s gospel record opens with the stories of two conception miracles, one involving a barren, older woman past childbearing age, and the other a young, unmarried virgin in her early teens. The child of the first would be the forerunner of the Messiah, John the Baptist; the second would be the Messiah Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Hope is essential for living at any time, especially in times of adversity and testing. Hope is living with a firm hold on the promise of life and salvation. Hope is the gift of looking forward with confidence, knowing that even if the future entails suffering, even unto death, it will be okay because Christ has gone on ahead. To hope is to have a secure future and know one has it (Martin, E. D. (1993). Colossians, Philemon (p. 87). Scottdale, PA: Herald Press.).
Luke’s brief description of Mary’s meeting with Elizabeth emphasizes God’s confirmation of His promise to a people who needed hope. The account reveals three aspects of that Blessed Hopethough: 1) Personal Confirmation (Luke 1:39–40), 2) Physical Confirmation (Luke 1:41a, 44), and 3) Prophetic Confirmation (Luke 1:41b–43, 45).
1) Hope through Personal Confirmation(Luke 1:39–40)
Luke 1:39-40 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. (ESV)
Eager to see the promised sign, Mary wasted no time in setting out to visit her older relative Elizabeth. The phrase in those days/at this time refers to the time of Gabriel’s visit. That and Luke’s note that she went with haste/in a hurry indicates that Mary immediately dropped everything to make the trip south to Judea to see Elizabeth, who was by that time six months pregnant (v. 36). Since she stayed with Elizabeth for three months (v. 56), Mary evidently returned home around the time of the birth of John the Baptist (v. 57). Mary’s departure reflects an instant response to God’s leading (Bock, D. L. (1994). Luke: 1:1–9:50 (Vol. 1, p. 134). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.).
As years pass it seems that the days of special events reoccur so fast. As quickly as Advent seems upon us, the eagerness for spending time with family and friends is seen as an opportunity to catch up and enjoy one another again. Naturally this is a great opportunity for sharing the truly eternal matters of our lives with those we care about.
Travel to the Judean hill country near Jerusalem would have taken three or four days. Such a journey by a girl of Mary’s age was highly unusual in a culture where young girls were carefully shielded and protected. In addition, though the Bible nowhere mentions the exact moment of her conception, Mary no doubt was already pregnant when she made the trip. It is doubtful that Joseph was aware that Mary was pregnant. The account of Joseph’s awareness of Mary’s pregnancy, his response, and the next angelic visit is given by Matthew (Mt. 1:18–25). The trip from Nazareth to the hill country was probably fifty to seventy miles—a major trip for a young woman alone and on foot (Barton, B. B., Veerman, D., Taylor, L. C., & Osborne, G. R. (1997). Luke (p. 23). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.).
The exact location of the town/city/village of Judah where Zacharias and Elizabeth lived is unknown, although a sixth-century tradition places it about five miles from Jerusalem. After arriving there, verse 40 notes that Mary entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth (cf. vv. 41, 44). Unlike the brief, casual, even flippant greetings common today, a greeting in the Ancient Near East was an extended social event, involving a lengthy dialogue. (cf. Ex. 18:7-9) Mary and Elizabeth no doubt shared all the details of their remarkable stories with each other. Elizabeth would have told Mary of the amazing events that culminated in her pregnancy, starting with Gabriel’s appearance to Zacharias in the temple. Mary likewise would have related to Elizabeth the story of her visit from Gabriel a short time earlier. The remarkable similarities in the two accounts would have thrilled and amazed them as they realized that the long-awaited Messiah was about to arrive, and that God had chosen these two obscure women to be the miraculous bearers of these two sons.