December 23, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
Elizabeth’s words reveal a blessedness that Mary possesses. She speaks of Mary’s unique status: “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! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.’” Elizabeth’s guest is different. She is the bearer of the Lord, the mother of God. And that is nearly too much for the human mind to take in.
But such complete mind-blowing marks the Lord’s actions through time. The pair of women in today’s Gospel Reading are two in a long line of people who have witnessed and experienced the way that He works: Elizabeth who was called barren is now with child in her old age; Mary who knows no man is now found carrying the Son of God in her womb. As the Lord makes promises and fulfills them, the events are not usually what people would expect or devise. This is how He operates. It’s what He does.
Today you heard one of the promises concerning the arrival of the Messiah. Hear it again, but think on how the unexpected is what the Lord chooses to do: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for Me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days…. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.” The Lord promises to raise up a ruler for His people. But that ruler will not come from the chief cities of Israel; he will come from a rural town where sheep outnumber people. Yet this ruler will exercise all of the Lord’s strength; he will possess the Lord’s majesty. From among the shepherds’ staffs is raised a scepter that will stretch to the ends of the earth.
How the Lord chooses to bring forth His Messiah is consistent with how He had chosen those who were part of the lineage. Abraham is taken out of his homeland and made into a great nation. Though he is the younger son, Jacob is made a patriarch of the people. From Judah, the fourth son of Jacob, comes the royal line of Israel. David, the youngest son of Jesse, is anointed king. The Messianic Line includes the faithful and impious, wealthy and poor, heroes and rogues, powerful and weak. But this is how the Lord brings forth an eternal ruler for His people.
As Elizabeth notes the unique status of Mary and her own privilege to welcome the mother of her Lord into her home, her words express what makes her visitor blessed. Hear again how Elizabeth speaks of Mary: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! … And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Mary’s blessedness is wrapped up in the Child that she bears. Because she is carrying the Son of God within her, she is blessed. Because she believed what the angel Gabriel announced to her, Mary is blessed. Through that action, Mary is granted her status. It does not originate in her; it is bestowed to her by the Lord.
Mary’s response of praise testifies to that fact: “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.” She knows that her life has been turned upside down and inside out. Mary recognizes that she has been given a divine privilege that none else will have. Through the Lord’s actions, she has been brought into the Messianic Line. Because of the Ruler who is brought forth from her, Mary is elevated from being an insignificant young woman among the clans of Israel to a figure that will be called blessed by all generations.
But the Scripture readings do not simply tell you about one person who had mighty things done for her. No, they reveal to you how the Lord has acted for your benefit. The blessed fruit of Mary’s womb is the Ruler promised to come from Bethlehem. Your Good Shepherd who exercises the Lord’s strength and carries the Lord’s majesty is born in the city of David. You will hear the good news of a great joy for all people again tomorrow evening on Christmas Eve. That good news is that the Messiah causes you dwell secure; you have Him as your peace. This is the Child that Mary bore, that John welcomed by leaping in his mother’s womb, that Elizabeth praises even before His birth. By Him mighty acts are performed for you, the acts that bring you redemption and salvation.
You are the recipients of the Lord’s actions. They are needed, since you have much that plagues you. You are born in imperfection, born of sinful fathers who pass along the unwanted inheritance of sinfulness from generation to generation. From this stems all manner of problems, including your own desire to be independent and under no one’s rule. You would rather not have a shepherd who prods and leads you with rod and staff. You ignore the Lord’s Law and its instruction, following your own ways, wandering like sheep.
But on the Messiah has been laid the iniquity of all. Not only is He the Shepherd of His people, He is also their sacrificial lamb who takes away the sin of the world. This is the identity of the Son that Mary bears, the fruit of her womb. So you heard in the apostolic writing: “When [Christ] said above, ‘You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings’ (these are offered according to the Law), then He added, ‘Behold, I have come to do Your will.’ He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
The voluntary offering of the Son of God, eternal life brought through death of the Messiah—this is how the Lord has dealt with you. It is how He answers the cries of His people: “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, You who lead Joseph like a flock. You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth. Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up Your might and come to save us! Restore us, O God; let Your face shine, that we may be saved!” The Lord’s actions are not what you would expect or devise. But this is how He operates. He does bring the remedy for your sin, for your guilt, for your imperfection, for what afflicts you. It is given through His Messiah who becomes your peace as the division between the righteous God and unrighteous world is bridged, as atonement and reconciliation are made by Him.
This is what Mary makes known to you through her song of praise for the Lord’s acts. Not only does she testify about what He had done for her, she bears witness to what is yours because of it: “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 His offspring forever.” The acts of salvation done by the Messiah brought forth from Mary in Bethlehem are performed for you. This is how the Lord displays His mercy to you. He makes gracious promises and fulfills them in His ways.
So you are meant to benefit from what the Lord has done. You are to be given a blessed status. You are to be sanctified and made holy through the Messiah’s offering. And it will be so as you act as Mary and Elizabeth and the others throughout the history of the Lord’s people. The Lord’s mercy is for you, as you fear Him, as you recognize Him as your God, as you acknowledge Him as the ruler of all things. His mercy is displayed to you through the Messiah’s work, the fulfilling of what was divinely promised. You are filled with the good things of His forgiveness, life, and salvation. You are helped and delivered. You are exalted from being separated from the Lord to being the people of His household.
Though the Messianic Line has all its unexpected twists and turns, it has come to its completion in the fruit of Mary’s womb. Though not all that the Messiah does is what you would have devised, it is what the Lord has declared to be His gracious will for your benefit. Though the ways that the Messiah brings His salvation to you—listening to Gospel words spoken, undergoing baptism, hearing absolution, eating supper—stand out as a bit peculiar, it is yours as you trust and receive them. So from what has been done by the Messiah, a privileged status is given to you. Blessed are you who believe that there will be a fulfillment of what has been spoken to you from the Lord.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.