Friday, June 1, 2018
Wonderfully odd. . .
Perhaps no scene in the Bible is as odd as the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. Yet too often all we see are two pregnant women. I will admit that seeing two pregnant women visiting each other is probably rarer now than in years gone by – given the drop in the birth rate and all. But if you looked around Grace Lutheran Church on a Sunday morning you would generally find two pregnant women on a Sunday morning and they are probably talking together about their common state.
But not Elizabeth and Mary. They did not come together to commiserate morning sickness or to talk about the strange places the babies chose to lay in the womb or the benefits and drawbacks of this breast pump or that bottle system. That is exactly what makes this visit so odd. They do not speak of the babies in their womb as babies but as the sons whom the Father has given them and of the holy purpose of their births which will mark them forever.
Elizabeth is old and barren. She should not be pregnant at all. But the Lord has opened her womb and given life to John because the child in her womb will be called the greatest of all those born of women. Her pregnancy not only gave her shock but stole the voice of Zechariah her husband. John is to be born from her not to satisfy a mother’s painful yearning or to give a name through which the family lineage will be passed on. John is born to be the prophet of the Most High God. He is to prepare His way. His miracle birth signals a miracle life for the longing of the ages is what He gives voice and witness to – The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is come.
Mary is a young virgin. She should not be pregnant at all. But the Lord has not only opened her womb. He planted within her His one and only Son, the Word who spoke creation into being. He is come to fulfill the promise first given to Adam and Even in the Garden and kept alive by prophet’s word until that day when Gabriel spoke and Mary’s womb stirred. Over shadowed by the Spirit, without the aid of betrothed husband and without violating her virginity, Mary is carrying the Lamb of God on whom all will depend for life and salvation.
The women meet and forego the common pleasantries. Elizabeth rejoices that the mother of her Lord has come to visit her. Mary sings a song of praise for the very thing that should have caused her consternation and grief – she is a pregnant virgin with the far out story of carrying God in her belly. It is the most remarkable of conversations. Both women rejoice to the same Lord for the same gift. God is come to redeem His people and the whole world. John will rise up as a lone voice into the wilderness to speak hope to a world that had become content with despair. Jesus will fulfill in flesh the promise of John and be the Lamb of God who suffers, bleeds, and dies to rescue a people who had forgotten they were captive to sin and its death. How remarkable!!
But there is even something more remarkable about this visit. The boys in the wombs of these women are also conversing in preparation for a day which will wait some thirty years. Jesus makes known His presence; John responds with a leap nearly takes Elizabeth’s breath away. The Lord Jesus preaches to John and John responds with the kick of faith by the Holy Spirit and both sons and mothers are moved to joy. It is beyond our imagination. This is a story which cannot be told in advance but only in retrospect of the prophet who prepared His way and the Savior who is born to suffer and die for you and me and for all the world.
Mary is blessed for believing the unbelievable news of the archangel. Elizabeth is blessed for believing the Word of the Lord. You are blessed because both of these were conceived, were carried for 9 months, were born, lived, and died for YOU. John grew up in the knowledge and stature of the Lord to fulfill His ministry not simply for the sake of a chosen nation and its remnant of people who still pondered the promise. His trumpet voice calls to us and to all the world, Prepare the way of the Lord! He has taught us to echo his own words and this we do when we come to the Holy Supper of the Lord singing: Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. We have learned from him that the way of faith by the power of the Spirit is the way of sanctification in which the me of the old sinful nature must decrease and the me of the new birth of baptism must increase.
And Jesus does not fail to fulfill every Law of God and every promise of the prophets. He grew in knowledge and stature not only before God but before men. He confounds critics and surprises those who think they can predict the ways of God. He does exactly what God said He would in the grandest of mysteries – God of God, Light of Light, True God of True God. Yet He comes not for His own glory nor to establish some kingdom of earthly power and domain. No, He comes for the glory of the Father who loves to redeem sinners unworthy of His gracious favor. He comes for a kingdom in the world, where His Word speaks and His Holy Sacraments convey that which they sign, but not of the world, and therefore not bound to time and space but meant for eternity.
So this little visit is odd but in a glorious way! And so is our visit to this altar today. It is odd. God in bread? God in wine? God’s Word borrowing the altogether ordinary voice of a pastor? How can this be? We all want to know. But these are given not for explanation or understanding but so that we may leap for joy and proclaim the Gospel to those who do not know its sweet gift of plenteous power, tasted and savored in this Holy Communion. So in this we can little to befit the great and awesome gift Christ has given us and John proclaimed, except to join in blessed Mary’s own song as our song of faith:
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.