Summary: In this text Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth so she can confirm the truth of the angel Gabriel’s words to her.
Today is the Fourth Sunday of Advent. We are focusing our attention during this Advent Season on one of the Scripture Readings read during Advent. And so today’s text is Luke 1:39-45.
Receiving confirmation for a significant event or activity is often important. When I was in the South African Air Force serving as an Air Traffic Controller, I used to tease the permanent force guys mercilessly. At a certain time each year they would receive news of promotions and new assignments. I would know which guys wanted to be assigned to different cities, and so weeks before the news came out about their new assignments I would go around and say, “I heard that you got the assignment you wanted.”
“What!” was the excited reply, “how do you know that?”
“Oh! I have my sources,” I would say.
Fortunately, on the day that the news came out most of the guys did get the assignments they had been hoping to get. And so most of the guys did not get too mad at me!
However, one year shortly after the assignments came out, the phone rang in the control tower. The major on duty answered the phone, and after a few words, hung up the phone and said to me, “Lieutenant Fritz, you’re on your way to the sticks!”
Frankly, I did not know what “the sticks” was, and so I asked, “What do you mean?”
“You have been assigned to northern Namibia,” he said.
I was shocked! Northern Namibia? There’s a war going on there. Surely not. Ha! I know. He is just teasing me and getting me back for all my teasing of the permanent force guys, I thought.
“How do you know?” I asked him.
“You can confirm it at the Commandant’s Office,” he said. “You need to go and see him now.”
I thought for sure that he was teasing me. So, knowing that the major could see me, I got on the bicycle and rode very nonchalantly to the Commandment’s Office. When I got to the office, however, the orderly on duty confirmed what the major had said to me: I was indeed being sent to northern Namibia.
The story of Jesus’ birth includes the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary and telling her of an extraordinary experience she is about to undergo: she is to conceive miraculously and give birth to the Son of God (Luke 1:26-35). Naturally, Mary is stunned by the news. But then Gabriel tells Mary that her older cousin, Elizabeth, who was well beyond her childbearing years, was already six months pregnant (1:36-38)!
It is at this point that our text for today begins. Mary goes to visit Elizabeth so that she can confirm the angel’s prophecy to her.
Let’s read Luke 1:39-45:
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.” (Luke 1:39-45)
Luke begins his Gospel with the story of two conception miracles, both involving women who at the time could not naturally have children.
Elizabeth was barren, probably in her sixties, and yet with her elderly husband, Zacharias, she conceived and carried in her womb John the Baptist, the prophesied forerunner of the Messiah.
Mary was a virgin girl of twelve or thirteen who became pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit and as a result would give birth to Jesus, the incarnate Son of God. Even though there were differences in their ages and circumstances, both mothers were chosen by God to be human instruments in the two most unusual and significant births in the New Testament. The births marked the great peak in redemptive history, and the Holy Spirit providentially filled the two accounts with incredible, unmistakable similarities.
The two accounts in Luke 1 run as parallel accounts, with the same kind of narrative flow.
First, they both begin with an introduction of the child’s parents, or parent.
Second, both mention specific obstacles to childbearing—Elizabeth’s barrenness and Mary’s virginity.
Third, the angel Gabriel made both announcements, each time to someone living in a small-town, out-of-the-way location. Elizabeth and Zacharias lived in the hill country south of Jerusalem; Mary lived in Nazareth, a small Galilean town north of Jerusalem.