The following post is the second in a series of Scriptural messages called “The Songs of Christmas: Advent Meditations on the Incarnation.” I pray that these Advent devotions may be used by families as well as individuals and perhaps even pastors who are searching for others’ reflections as they prepare their own. May Christ be exalted. May the Songs of Christmas, the stories of God’s grace in the lives of people just like us, ring out during this glorious season of the Incarnation.
For The Second Sunday in Advent
THE SONG OF Elizabeth, Luke 1:39-45
The next movement in the Symphony of Christmas after Mary’s opening happens as Mary travels from Nazareth to the hill country of Judea. One commentator has written that: “[Mary] probably traveled fifty to seventy miles from Nazareth to Zechariah’s home in Judea, a major trip for Mary.”
Rushing to tell her relative Elizabeth, Mary finds another surprise: old Elizabeth is expecting a child of her own! God was up to something big! When Elizabeth meets little Mary and hears what God has done, the unborn child in her womb leaps for joy. This is the first instance of the ministry of John the Baptist! In responding to the news of the coming of Messiah, the unborn John the Baptist testifies to his own mother and the Holy Spirit comes upon her!
Elizabeth then breaks out in joyful exclamation! How muted Zechariah must have wished he, too, could sing with his wife over the news!
This is a “blessed” Song—a happy song that speaks of the absolute fulfillment in the magical appearance of Jesus Christ to people aware of their need for a Savior.
In Elizabeth’s Song, we are given a Spirit-filled reply to Mary which focuses on the blessed consequences of God’s grace in sending Jesus for every believer.
I. The First Consequence of Christ’s Coming: A Blessing on Womankind—v. 42
In learning that her relative Mary was carrying the Messiah of God, Elizabeth, and it says with a loud voice, cries out:
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”
Now, this one verse has been used by some—erroneously, I think—to substantiate a view that Mary herself is without sin. Nothing even remotely suggests this in the text.
What is being taught here is the truth that in Mary, womankind, previously under condemnation for her role in being the first to fall and bringing her husband into her sin with her, will be liberated. There are a couple of passages that need examination at this point:
One passage surely under consideration is from Genesis 3:15, in which God speaks to Satan, who had led woman astray, and tells that fallen angel that there will be great enmity between woman and thee. And there is coming a day when the seed of the woman (and note that there is no man mentioned in connection with this event) shall bruise the head of Satan.
So, here, we see God’s Word providing an early warning to Satan and a happy Word of hope for woman: from woman will come the Messiah.
Now, the Lord also spoke to woman in the next verse (v. 16) and tells her that “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
Now, in verse 15 we have a Word of hope for woman, but in verse 16, we are given the reason for the hope: that woman, in her fallen estate, will endure sorrow and pain and oppression.
Now, we don’t have the time for an essay on the whole matter, but it is enough to reiterate that woman prior to the coming of Jesus Christ led an ignoble existence at best and absolute degradation at worst. The tales of the mistreatment of women are myriad and their description is horrible. Women were dehumanized and treated like property. This has been the case of women without Messiah and remains that way in many parts of the world today. But, in Mary bearing the Son of God, we have a fulfillment to the prophecy and the beginning of the reversal of the fallen condition. I say the beginning because until the Second Coming of Christ, we will continue, in this present evil age, to see the sinful consequences of the fall in some measure. But, thank God, in the coming of Christ, through a woman, we see a signaled departure from the old order to the degree that Elizabeth sings this first verse:
“Blessed are you among women!”
The other verse that bears mentioning is 1 Timothy 2:15 where Paul says of woman’s role: “She shall be saved in childbearing.” The context of Paul’s statement is the role of women in the worship of the Church. Paul disallows the role of pastoral leadership, and grounds his ruling in the creation ordinance (v. 13) and in the fall of woman (v. 14). In using the word teknogoni÷aß—which means the bearing of a child—the Holy Spirit, in Paul’s words, agrees with Himself when He causes Elizabeth to make this declaration.
So, far from exalting Mary to co-redemptrix position with Jesus, which is a “classic example of the bad development of doctrine, of the way in which unscriptural if not pagan devotional practices can become dogma” —this first stanzas of the Song of Elizabeth accents her God ordained role as the fulfillment of divine prophecy concerning women.
If you are a woman and you have struggled with oppression in your life—and I have come to believe though experience that whenever I speak to any group with women there are at least some who have had endured some sort of pain simply because they were born a woman—I want to point you to a loving heavenly Father. He does not condone the mistreatment of women and His heart is toward His own creation. He chose a little lass named Mary to bear Emmanuel in part to begin the healing of the soul of His cherished creation. The greatest single thing you can do for the healing of your own soul is to simply come to Jesus Christ right now; to open up your heart to Jesus who came to set you free, to bring liberty and freedom that the world offers but can never really deliver.
Elizabeth’s Song beings with the first consequence of Christ’s coming: a blessing to women because of the fruit of Mary’s womb, the Lord Jesus.
II. The Second Consequence of Christ’s Coming: A Blessing on Humble Servants—v. 43
You can observe her humble spirit as she moves from blessing Mary to being humbled by Mary’s presence.
Now, let us say that this humility before Mary is notable for us Protestants. Under the first point, I had to say that there have been wrong views of Mary propagated—and I certainly meant the Marian cults within the Roman Church—but, Elizabeth now calls some others to repent of haughtiness towards the Virgin Mary. She was not, is not, and can never be received as a Co-Redemptix with Christ, or as the Queen of Heaven, but neither is she just another woman. She was chosen of the Lord to bear the Son of God and as Elizabeth regards her with honor, so must we.
But, I think it would miss the Scriptures if we thought that Elizabeth was simply giving honor to Mary alone. The situation is that humble Elizabeth is blessed that such news of the Messiah should come to her. She is a type of person envisioned by Isaiah when he wrote:
Once more the humble will rejoice in the LORD; the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. Is. 29:19
Now, this is a powerful blessing for you and me and all who see themselves as unworthy, as poor in spirit, as needy people. The Humble are blessed by the coming of the Lord.
The Psalmist wrote:
You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty. Psa. 18:27
The Lord Jesus taught the disciples this truth. We read in Luke 18:
Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:10-14
Now there is something else here that is worthy of our interest. Not only in Elizabeth humbled by the coming of Mary with all that means, but note that she understands that she was chosen to receive this news:
“But why is this granted to me…?”
Clearly, Elizabeth understood that the Almighty had discriminated in bringing the news to her and not to another. Her humility is all the more underscored by her understanding of this truth.
God sent Mary to her. God sent John the Baptist to her. God sent His Son to the lost sheep of Israel. God sent the elect sheep of Israel to Asia Minor, to Europe and ultimately to every corner of the globe. God has sent His message of salvation to you, as well.
Now, we who are Presbyterians are known to revel in the doctrine of election: the undeniable Biblical doctrine that our of His own good pleasure the Lord has chosen a number from the foundation of the earth to be His elect people. So, what is the response to this? Pride? God forbid! The response of election should be the same as Elizabeth’s response: why me? O God what a sinner I am! Why did you sent the Gospel to me?
When you understand the depravity of your own sin and the depth and riches of the mercy of God on your soul, you should fall down before Him and worship Him.
III. The Third Consequence of Christ’s Coming: A Blessing that Defines a Family—v. 44
In verse 44 Elizabeth sings forth the truth that as soon as Mary announced the Good News, the unborn John the Baptist leaped in her womb.
The Good News of the Messiah shaped the household of Elizabeth and Zechariah and their little boy. One heard and rejoiced and the Holy Spirit came upon the other.
Here is a glorious consequence of Christ’s coming: every member of the family is impact by the announcement of the Lord’s salvation.
When Jesus came he impacted families with the Gospel. It is true, as the Lord would say, that when one member of the family believes, there are times when others will not and the reception of Jesus Christ ends up dividing homes.
But, I thank God that in His providence, when one believes, we also see that whole families come to Christ. When one receives the Good News, he or she rejoices and the rest begin to rejoice. I thank God that like the Philippians jailer who brought Paul home to preach to his household, and they believed and were baptized, we can bring the Gospel to our families and claim that Scripture for them.
Now not only is this family defined by the Gospel in terms of salvation, note the character of their family life:
“the babe leaped for joy!”
When Jesus comes into a home, Jesus brings joy. When families yield to the Savior, and follow Him, and embrace Him as Lord of their homes, Christ sends rivers of joy through their families.
For some time, now, since coming to Christ as committing my life to His Gospel, I have had the opportunity to visit in people’s homes. I have gone door to door in some cases, sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and I have noted that the news of the Gospel was unwanted in some homes and greatly desired in others. I noted, also, that the homes where Christ was Head had a quality of peace and joy, and the homes where Christ was unwanted may have been houses of fun, but there seems to be little peace and inner joy.
There is nothing more beautiful that a home where the Gospel is embraced, where mothers and fathers love the Lord, where children love Christ, and where one encourages the other in the Lord.
What a great consequence of hearing the Good News of Jesus: that He should bring joy into our families.
As we move on to verse 45, Elizabeth’s Song, comes to its final verse. Here we learn that there is a condition to all of these happy consequences:
IV. The Only Condition to the Consequences: The Blessings begin with Faith—v. 45
Elizabeth adds her final “Blessed” to the Song. Blessed is she who believed.
Clearly, Elizabeth is blessing Mary, but for what? For faith. What if Mary had not believed? She would not have been used. But, God Himself had worked faith in that little lass, and faith brought all of the joyful consequences which we have mentioned.
The Bible teaches us that we are saved by faith. We grow by faith. The eyes of faith look to the Lord for His mercy. The hands of faith reach out and claim the promises of Scripture.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon said,
“a little faith will bring your soul to heave: a great faith will bring heaven to your soul.”
That is a good charge to this congregation today: there are some of you who need to exercise faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. You need to turn to Him and cry out to Him and say, “O Lord, I want to be like Elizabeth, humbled before Thee that I should hear the Gospel now, but I plead that by the finished work of Jesus Christ and by faith in Him alone, you will save me!”
Others of you desperately need to reach out the hand of faith and look to Christ to completely take hold of your life, to have a greater faith that will follow Jesus no matter what, that will cause you to step out for Him, stand up for Him, reach out to others in His Name, begin to practice radical obedience to Him, trust Him with your finances, with your relationships, with your career, and begin to enjoy the Elizabethan excitement and joy of being a child of God!
“The Jesus Who Is”
The Song of Elizabeth shows us what happens when Christ comes into our lives—when the Good News of the Gospel crosses our paths.
I recall reading that Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones remarked that he enjoyed his holidays because they afforded him time to read without interruption. I feel sure that he didn’t have little children when he wrote that. But, the Christmas season is a bit slower and I found some time recently to enjoy more reading time. As I was pouring over some authors in my own library and spending time reminiscing through previously read volumes, I picked up Frederick Buechner’s The Longing for Home. Buechner’s deeply moving book of reflection and recollection on his own life and his own longing for home ended with some thoughts about what he called The Jesus Who Was and the Jesus Who Is. He wrote that the Jesus Who Was is a largely historical figure who came, who lived, who died, and yes, we might add with confessional accuracy, the One who rose again from the dead. But, the Jesus Who Is is the Lord who brings vision not only to blind eyes in the Gospels, but to our own narrow and blurred vision. He is not only the Jesus who opens the ears of the deaf, but the One who speaks to our deafened world—as Buechner put it, “a voice unlike all other voices.” Buechner said:
“The Jesus Who Is is the one whom we search for even when we do not know that we are searching and hide from even when we do not know that we are hiding.”
This morning, we have read Elizabeth’s testimony: her Song of Blessings which come to those who welcome the Good News of Jesus Christ. The only thing remaining for each of us is to make certain that we welcome not the “Jesus Who Was,” but the “Jesus Who Is:” The Son of God, the Dayspring from on high, the Promised One for humble servants, who came, who lived, who died, who rose again, who ascended, and who—right now—by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, stands in our midst; bidding needy people to open the doors of the secret places of your life that He may come in.
Let us pray.
Lord Jesus, I pray for all who read these words. May the Holy Spirit open their hearts to sing a new song to You. And in doing so, send them off into life and eternal life with the song of joy, the song of salvation, the carols of Christ. For Your sake I pray. Amen.
NIV Commentary, Luke 1.39.
New Dictionary of Theology, 416.
Frederick Buechner The Longing for Home, (Harper Collins, 1996), 180.