This coming Sunday is the Solemnity of the Assumption. The gospel is taken from the Infancy Narratives of Luke’s Gospel. The first part of the gospel is traditionally known as the Visitation.
39 During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, 42 cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:39-16)
Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband, had been promised that his son (John the Baptist) would be filled with the Holy Spirit (1:15). Once Jesus is conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit becomes active in others. John receives the Spirit in the presence of Jesus; the Spirit fills Elizabeth, and later Zechariah and Simeon. This foreshadows the future glorification of Jesus, which will release the Spirit on all (Acts 2:33). Elizabeth’s question, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” recalls the words of King David when the ark of the covenant was being brought back to Jerusalem after having been captured by the Philistines: “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” (2 Sam 6:9). The ark symbolized the presence of Yahweh, the God of Israel. Mary’s visit to Elizabeth sanctifies her home with the presence of the Lord.
“During those days” and “in haste” indicate the immediacy of Mary’s trip after hearing the angel’s message, Mary goes to Elizabeth presumably to confirm the angel’s word about Elizabeth’s pregnancy (1:36-37) and perhaps share in her joy. It could be understood as a sign of Mary’s faith – “I’m going to see what God has done with Elizabeth;” or a testing of the angel’s message – “I’m going to see if what the angel said about Elizabeth is true.” Perhaps it was obvious to Mary when she entered the room that what the angel had told her about Elizabeth was true. It also became obvious to Elizabeth that there was something special about Mary and the baby she was carrying. Her knowledge didn’t come from an angel, but from a kick in her womb!
On one hand, this might be a fulfillment of the prophecy that the angel told Zechariah about his son: “He will be filled with the holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb”(1:15b). The unborn John is presented as recognizing something about the unborn Jesus. In fact, Martin Luther uses this event to talk about “infant faith” in an argument for infant baptism arguing that John exhibited faith in Jesus while still in the womb
On the other hand, the movement in the womb requires some interpretation. The word for “leap” (skirteo) in the NT is used only in Luke. Twice in reference to John’s “leaping” in the womb (1:41, 44) and once in reference to Luke’s beatitude about persecution. “Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.” (6:23ab).
Is there really any difference between a “kick” in the womb or twins “struggling” in the womb and a “leap for joy” in the womb? It all depends on how one interprets the actions. Certainly in this text Elizabeth is able to correctly interpret the movement within her because she has been filled with the Holy Spirit.
How often are we put in a position to offer a Christ-centered interpretation of events that happen? Was it just circumstances? Was God involved? Should we say, “You were sure lucky!” or “Blessed be God!”? There is a danger in assuming that we might know what God is doing, but there is also a danger of discounting God’s activities in our lives. Many times in Luke/Acts, being filled with the Spirit resulted in a speech.
- After Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit, she exclaims with a loud cry (1:41).
- After Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit, he speaks a prophecy (1:67).
- After all are filled with the Holy Spirit, they speak in other tongues (Ac 2:4)
- After Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit, he speaks (Ac 4:8)
- After all are filled, they speak the word of God boldly (Ac 4:31)
- After the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles, they speak in other tongues (Ac 10:44)
In contrast, Ananias is filled with Satan and lies to the Holy Spirit (Ac 5:3)
Elizabeth’s Praise! In a gospel account, a blind man shouts out to Jesus, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” (Mark 10:47). Similarly, words of Elizabeth are “cried out” (anaphoneo) with a “loud voice” (krauge megale). First Elizabeth “eulogizes” Mary and the “fruit of her womb.” Literally, the word eulogeo means “to speak well of,” then “to praise,” then “to bless,” and finally, it can refer deeds that bring blessings, “to act kindly towards.”
There is a sense that this word not only declares the blessing or praise, but makes it happen. It is used by Jesus over the bread and fish at the feeding of the 5000 (9:16); and by the risen Jesus over the bread at the home in Emmaus where he is made known to the two (24:30).
Why is Mary blessed/praised? She is “the mother of the Lord.” This is what sets Mary apart from all other believers. This too is the working of the Spirit. I’m not sure how many of us would be praising/blessing a young teenage, (probably 12-14 years old,) unmarried girl whom we discover is pregnant.
Elizabeth’s joy at her own pregnancy after so many years of barrenness is overshadowed by the joy at Mary’s visit – or rather that the unborn Lord would honor her with his presence. How wonderful it would be if we had that same attitude concerning the presence of our Lord in our gathering together, and in the Word, and in the Supper: “Blessed be God who has come to us this day.” I think that too often we think of worship as our good deed of bringing ourselves to God, when, in fact, it is a time and place where God comes to us.
As the mother of the Lord, Mary is unique. As one who believes that God’s Word will be fulfilled, she is a model of faith for us all.