Online Worship for Advent One, Sunday November 29, 2020
Sermon for Advent One – Sunday November 29, 2020
Calvary/Marquette ● Soli Deo Gloria
Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus, The Christ. Amen.
Luke 1:39-45 (NKJV)
39 Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” *
In the Name of Jesus, the Christ,
Whose first coming we celebrate,
Preparing for his second coming,
Dear Fellow Redeemed in His Blood –
For many of us, Christmas decorations (like those you see in the church) and Christmas songs help us to prepare for the Christmas Season. After Thanksgiving, many of us turn our focus toward Christmas and begin taking up the themes of the season.
Now there are many familiar Christmas songs and carols, and we all have favorites. It’s new to me, but recently I’ve heard one called “Mary, Did You Know?” quite frequently. The song was written in 1984 by a man named Mark Lowry and first recorded by a Christian Artist named Michael English in 1991. It has since been covered by nearly everyone and his mother (Kenny Rogers & Wynonna Judd; Clay Aiken; CeelLo Green; Carrie Underwood; Helene Fischer; Pentatonix; Jordan Smith).
The song has been criticized by some because it asks “Mary” if she knew things that the Bible actually reveals she certainly did know.
The Word of God before us this morning, taken from the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel, leads us to ask a different question – not of Mary, but – of her relative Elizabeth. We can’t know what Mary knew - unless the Spirit of God tells us in the Bible. The same is true of Elizabeth.
When we learn what Elizabeth knew, we can’t help but ask: “Elizabeth, How Did You Know?” How did you know Mary would be blessed among women? How did you know that Mary would give birth to a child of blessing? How did you know that God’s promises concerning Him would be fulfilled?
We ask that God the Holy Spirit help us to find the answers to these questions in this Word of God. Therefore, we pray, “Sanctify us, O Lord, by your truth; Your Word is Truth.” Amen.
39 Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth.
It’s a natural question, one that many have asked: “Why did Mary – after being told by the Angel that she would give birth to the Messiah – suddenly rise up and leave Nazareth in Galilee and go to Elizabeth?”
There are lots of guesses, as you might imagine. Some imagine that Mary had doubts about the word of the Angel and sought out Elizabeth for answers. Some suggest that Mary went to Elizabeth because she had just miraculously conceived and would know what she was going through.
We just aren’t told why Mary went to Elizabeth, but perhaps it was simply because the Angel had planted the idea in her mind when he said to her (Luke 1:36-37):
36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.”
Moreover, we don’t know the name of the city to which Mary traveled, or how far it was from Nazareth. So, what do we know?
Well, we know what happened when Mary entered the house of Zacharias. Mary greeted her relative, an elderly woman named Elizabeth. She was the wife of an elderly priest, who had recently seen an angel while offering up incense in the Temple of the LORD (Luke 1:5-17) in Jerusalem.
Did Mary know about what happened to Zacharias? We don’t know if Mary knew anything about what happened to Zacharias. As far as we know, the first time that Mary heard of Elizabeth’s pregnancy was when the Angel revealed it to her. While we don’t know why Mary went to Elizabeth or what she knew, we do know what happened to Elizabeth when Mary greeted her.
41 And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
What happened…Mary couldn’t see and couldn’t know without Elizabeth telling her. Well, two things happened:
1. The First thing took place inside of Elizabeth, in her womb to be specific. The six-month-old unborn child (Luke 1:25-26) within her that would later be called John the Baptist leapt (for joy) at the sound of Mary’s greeting.
2. The Second thing also occurred within her and was not evident either because the Holy Spirit’s coming is not always visible or accompanied with signs (as it was on Pentecost). Elizabeth was ‘filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Elizabeth was already a believer in the Promised Savior (Luke 1:6), so the Holy Spirit already dwelt within her. On this occasion, the Holy Spirit came upon her in a special way, enabling her to know things that she could not otherwise know.
It was when she was ‘filled with the Spirit’ that she said things that lead us to ask (and actually answer) the question: “Elizabeth, How Did You Know?”
42 Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!
Let’s remember that this was the First Century. Mary did not call or e-mail Elizabeth to let her know that she was coming. It would have been a surprise.
Mary had just entered the home of Zacharias and Elizabeth. She just walked in the door. The two women had not been visiting for 20 minutes, “Hey, I’m pregnant! Oh really?! I’m pregnant too.” Mary had not discussed the message of the Angel with Elizabeth. She had only greeted Elizabeth. She had barely said, ‘Hello.’
How did Elizabeth know that Mary was blessed among women? How could she say (literally): “You have been blessed in connection with women?”
We’ve noted that Elizabeth was a righteous woman, one who knew and believed the promises concerning the Coming Savior.
No doubt Elizabeth was familiar with the very first promise, made in the Garden of Eden. In that very first promise God assured the first human beings that one of their descendants, the ‘Seed of the Woman’ would destroy the power of Satan and undo the damage caused in Eden (cf. Genesis 3:15).
No doubt she was also familiar with the promise made through the Prophet Isaiah, that a virgin would give birth to a Son (Isaiah 7:14). Still, Elizabeth didn’t just ‘put two and two together.’
The Holy Spirit (who filled her) must have revealed to her (as He would later with Simeon, Luke 2:26) that the one standing before her was the very one through whom the Savior would be born. Mary was blessed – not because of who she was – but because God determined that she -- a humble, unknown woman - would give birth to the one and only Savior of humankind. It was in this way that Mary was ‘blessed among women.’
Now these words are familiar to us today – in part – because they are used to elevate the Virgin Mary to a place she does not belong. There are some who even pray to Mary – as if she were a mediator between God and humankind. They have taken these words in the oft repeated, “Hail, Mary.” Many who speak these words imagine many things about Mary that Scripture doesn’t teach. We will see (next week)– in her own song – that she did not consider herself worthy of such praise, but glorified God who blessed her by choosing her to bear the Savior of the world.
Elizabeth didn’t only call Mary ‘blessed among women.’ She also said that the unborn child in Mary’s womb would bring blessing to others. In fact, Mary’s Son would be – and still is – the source of great blessing to many.
How did Elizabeth even know – without being told by Mary – that she was pregnant? Elizabeth herself was six months pregnant…so she might have had a ‘baby bump.’ On the other hand, Mary had only just heard that she would give birth to a child. There was no ‘baby bump.’
Was it a premonition? Did she ‘have a glow about her?’ No, the only way that Elizabeth could know Mary was pregnant if Mary didn’t tell her was – again – if the Holy Spirit revealed it. It wasn’t just that Elizabeth ‘guessed’ that Mary was pregnant, she also knew that the child of Mary would bring blessing to others.
Did Elizabeth know the full extent of that blessing? We can’t say for certain the extent of her knowledge and faith. We do ourselves know the great blessings that the child of Mary brings to sinful human beings because we have been taught by the Holy Spirit in the Holy Scripture.
We can see from her own words that she believed that the unborn child of Mary was Her Lord.
43 But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
Elizabeth was ‘glowing’ herself, having been granted the gift of a son in her old age despite being barren (Luke 1:7). She had hidden herself for the first five months, and only recently revealed herself as pregnant. Still, Elizabeth was not petty. She did not look with scorn upon Mary or boast in herself. She humbled herself. This wasn’t all about her; neither did she consider herself worthy, but asked why God would so favor her that the One to save humanity should come into her presence, even in the womb of Mary.
This is the type of humility we ought to have at all times, especially when we gather here in His presence (Matthew 18:20) for worship. This isn’t all about us, it’s about Christ.
How did Elizabeth know that the infant of Mary – was her Lord, the Messiah? There was only one way. God revealed it to her by His Spirit.
We should marvel at this, because this kind of ‘direct revelation’ by the Holy Spirit is an exceptional circumstance. God doesn’t communicate with us like this, but through His Word. Our dreams are the product of the unconscious mind; God speaks to us in His Word. We should not expect to learn the will of God except from His Word.
Finally, in that Word, it is revealed that Elizabeth told Mary what had happened within her at her greeting and what would come of all of God’s Promises.
44 For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” *
It was a miracle of God, a revelation of the Holy Spirit that Elizabeth knew that Mary was blessed and that her child would be the blessed Christ of God.
So, how could Elizabeth claim to know the future, that God’s promises would be fulfilled? Was she just ‘wishing Mary the best?’ Was this her way of being terribly optimistic? No, notice she didn’t say: “I hope that there will be a fulfillment of the things told her from the Lord.” She said, “There will be a fulfillment (it’s actually a future tense)”
Who was Elizabeth speaking of when she said, “Blessed is she who believed?” Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, was speaking of Mary herself. Mary (unlike Elizabeth’s own husband, Zacharias) had received and believed God’s amazing promise (cf. Luke 1:38) even though she could not fully fathom it.
God’s blessing of Mary had only just begun. She had conceived a child without Joseph.
God had promised Mary amazing things by means of the Angel (Luke 1:31-33):
31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
Truly, all of these promises would be fulfilled. She had conceived and would give birth to a son. She would call his name Jesus. He would be great, indeed the Son of God. He would be Christ the King, the great warrior king to defeat all of the spiritual enemies of Israel…then and now.
All of these things would be fulfilled, brought to the goal, completed, finished. Then when her Son, God’s Son completed the work He had been sent to do, He used a form of this same word, declaring: “It is Finished.”
Elizabeth, how did you know? She knew because the Spirit of God revealed it. We know it because the same Spirit reveals it to us in the Holy Scriptures. Should we be surprised that God keeps His Promises? Nope. They always are…because He is faithful, ever faithful, ever true.
Which is why we rest our hopes and our futures upon Him.
It’s still early in the season, but I can’t help but think of a familiar Christmas Hymn (TLH 91:1):
Let the earth now praise the Lord,
Who hath truly kept His word
And the sinner’s Help and Friend
Now at last to us doth send.