Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
The Visitation (observed) + July 1, 2018
Text: Luke 1:39–56
When Mary visited her, Elizabeth exclaimed, “Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43).
The visit had been Mary’s idea, conceived suddenly, arranged quickly, and executed with haste. She hadn’t wanted to stay in her hometown for long, not with the news starting to spread. She was only a young woman after all. She was pregnant, and her fiancé was not the father. How could she explain that? Who could she turn to for support? The angel had told her of her older relative, Elizabeth, who had conceived in old age. Yes, she would go there.
The story of an unwed woman facing a crisis pregnancy could take place anywhere, any time. It happens with variations every day, all across the world. It could’ve been Ancient Greece, the Mongol Empire, or twenty-first century Oregon. So it appears that St. Luke records yet another account of a teenage pregnancy and a young woman’s search for help: “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” (Luke 1:39–40).
But that’s not what this story’s about, is it?
Mary would be just another teenage pregnancy statistic if the child she carried were not the Christ. Like every pregnancy before and after hers, she conceived and a baby grew in her womb. But hers was different. She was truly a virgin. And the child she carried would “be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). That’s what the angel Gabriel had told her, and she’d believed it. The Lord was in her womb. The God who created the heavens and the earth had entered his creation. The One who formed Adam and Eve from the dust of the ground grew day-by-day in the womb of Eve’s daughter. Within and behind Mary’s visit to Elizabeth is the visit of God to humanity.
So it’s like St. Paul said: “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:27–29). God chose Mary, though she didn’t deserve it and she hadn’t earned it. She had nothing to boast about except the great mercy of God her Savior.
But you aren’t be forced to believe any of this. You can doubt the virgin birth, call it a myth and foolishness, despise and scorn the ways of God. Many do. The word on Nazareth’s streets was that Jesus was actually the son of Joseph. More sophisticated stories say that His father was a Roman soldier who had forced himself on Mary. They say that it’s impossible for a virgin to bear a child, that it’s completely unknown and unheard of. Their boast proves that they don’t know and haven’t heard of our God. Impossible? The angel Gabriel said, “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). God has done it. Reject Mary and her virgin birth and you reject the foolishness of God by which He saves sinners. But believe this glorious “impossible” news and you’ll find God doing the impossible work of saving you.
In contrast to the world’s rejection of the God in Mary’s womb, we have the example of Elizabeth. “When Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb” (Luke 1:41). That little leap was John the Baptist’s first sermon—an in utero announcement that the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world had entered the house with Mary. So much for those who believe that the Word doesn’t work on little ones or that babies can’t believe. John did! Inside the womb, He heard the voice of the mother of God and leapt with joy. Elizabeth felt it, and she too believed the impossible story of the virgin mother: God had truly visited His people to redeem them. Redeem us at every age, for “I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5) From our very conception we need a Redeemer. We need a Redeemer all the way through life till our hair is gray and our eyes are dim, because even if we were able to avoid it until now, death looms. Who will save us from this body of death? (Rom. 7:24) He who was conceived in Mary’s womb.
“Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!’” (Luke 1:42). Elizabeth did more than receive pregnant Mary into her home, for in receiving Mary, she also received Mary’s Son. Months before the shepherds knelt by the manger and a year or two before the wise men offered their gifts to the infant Jesus, Elizabeth became the first to welcome and worship the Christ Child. She confessed her faith and praised God for the infant blessing given to Mary. Jesus is the giver of every blessing in the church, and He was the reason Mary is called blessed. From Elizabeth, then, learn how to receive and rejoice over the visitation of the virgin’s Son. She helps us recognize as our Savior the One who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, hidden in the virgin’s womb, wrapped in swaddling cloths, and laid in a manger.
Young Mary is the vessel through whom the Savior came to Elizabeth and to us. Elizabeth calls her “the mother of my Lord” (Luke 1:43). That’s a profound confession. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has a mother. The Lord who appeared to Moses in a burning bush and who led the people out of slavery in Egypt was contained within Mary’s womb. “In Him, the fullness of deity dwells bodily.” (Col. 2:9) He followed the same path as you and me: He experienced life in the womb, as an infant, a toddler, a preschooler, a young child, a preteen, a teenager, and then adulthood.
God became man in this way so that He could be the Savior of all, from the tiniest baby in the womb to the fully mature adult. He embraced and sanctified our entire human nature and so proclaimed the value of every human life, including yours. From God’s perspective, there’s no such thing as a disposable clump of cells. There are no “unwanted” children or “leftover” embryos. There’s no “life unworthy of life.” God cares about every child lost by miscarriage or stillbirth. He came to redeem them, too. We know this from the nine months God spent in Mary’s womb. From Him, we learn to care for all life, including the unborn from the day of conception, and to show mercy and compassion to all pregnant women, including those with “crisis” pregnancies. Such pregnancies may be common in this fallen creation, but Jesus knows them all. And each pregnancy is a reminder of our Lord’s incarnation and visitation. What we do unto these “little ones” we do unto our Lord.
This Lord whom Elizabeth praised while still in the womb is the same one who lived and walked this earth for thirty years, performing miracles and proclaiming the kingdom of God. He was born true man. His sinless life and innocent suffering and death stand in for you. He has endured the wrath you and I have deserved and rescued you from death. Even now He remains the Incarnate One, truly God and truly man, that He might be our Advocate and Savior. The Lord has not abandoned His people or forgotten His promises. He still visits them with salvation.
The blessing that came to Elizabeth comes to us as well, in a way that looks just as foolish and weak and despised as pregnant teenage Mary knocking on her relative’s door. He who once visited Elizabeth while hidden in the womb of Mary now comes to visit us today, hidden in the lowliness of human words, simple water, bread and wine. My Lord is there, for no Word which God speaks will be impossible.
The prophecy given to Elizabeth concerning Mary is that she is blessed for believing that the Word of God is true. That is also true for us: Blessed are those who believe what God says, who trust God’s Word. Blessed is he who believes that what the Lord has said to him will be accomplished. Of course, that is easier said than done.
Consider what the Lord has said to you. He says: “You are Mine. I gave you My Name when you were baptized in My Name.” (Isa. 43:1; Matt. 28:19) He has said: “I forgive you all your sins” (John 20:23) A little later this morning, He will say: “Take, eat this is My Body. Take, drink, this is My Blood shed for you, for the forgiveness of your sins. I am in you and you are in Me. I am with you always.” (Matt. 26:26-28; John 17:21; Matt. 28:20)
The question remains the same as that which faced Elizabeth: How do I receive this visitation? Do I listen to the leap of John the Baptist as He proclaims the Incarnate God? Do I rejoice in Jesus Christ, my Lord, born of the virgin Mary? Do I wonder at why this great gift is granted to me? Do I bless Mary for her faith, saying with Elizabeth: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Luke 1:45)? Do I believe that God does exactly what He says, that He gives me the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation for the sake of His Son?
Blessed are you, like Mary and Elizabeth, for you also are filled with the Holy Spirit and you believe God, who visits you this day according to His Word. Amen.
 Alternate and more literal translation of Luke 1:37