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Rejoice

December 22, 2019
By Rev. David French

In today’s Gospel reading we find Mary going to visit her cousin Elizabeth who Luke earlier described as well along in years, and the angel Gabriel had said was in her 6th month. We’re not really told why she went. I imagine it was to see if what she had been told was true, to see this sign from God that would also validate her faith in the words the angel spoke to her. Certainly, it’s too soon for any physical proof of her own pregnancy, but the angel mentioned Elizabeth as proof that he was sent by God. So she goes to see for herself, not doubting, but expecting to rejoice.

 And they did rejoice.  Mary certainly rejoiced because the Angel of the Lord told her directly that God was working His plan of salvation for all people through her, that she would be the mother of God’s Son. Mary believes the Word of God spoken to her without question. She’s confused, still being a virgin and all, but Gabriel explains that God has a plan. The Holy Spirit will overshadow you and you will conceive. Then He tells her about Elizabeth and concludes, ... for nothing is impossible with God. She hears this and simply humbles herself saying, Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your Word. And that was it. From a purely theological perspective, it’s understood that this is the very moment that divine conception occurs.

Luke tells us that Mary, full of joy and excitement and wonder, goes to see her cousin Elizabeth.  Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting, and as soon as those words enter her ears, the other child of promise, the one in Elizabeth’s womb, leaps for joy. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaims in faithful joy, Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!

Elizabeth also rejoices. She rejoices because God has so richly blessed Mary with this gift for all and privilege for her. Elizabeth rejoices because she also been blessed with a child, the child who will usher in the beginning of the ministry of Mary’s baby. Any doubts she may have had are gone. The truth is, we’re never told what Elizabeth thought when she first found out that she was pregnant with the “new Elijah” whom God had sent to prepare the way for His Son. We do know that as soon as the pregnant Mary greets her, the words enter into her ears and her baby leaps for joy, and her response is to rejoice. 

Think about that for a moment. From a theological perspective, where does Jesus dwell in our lesson? In Mary’s womb. Where does our Lord dwell right now? He’s here in the midst of His bride, the Church. For centuries Christendom has understood the Church to be the womb of Christ’s bride, that is, the place where God gives new life to those born of His Word, whether on its own or combined with water in baptism, and with His own body and blood nurtures and cares for and feeds His children.

So, in our lesson, we see Christ dwells within Mary. Mary greets Elizabeth interestingly, using a word that is a modification of the root word for peace. So you might say, Mary offers the peace of Christ who dwells within her. Elizabeth hears this Word of peace that penetrates to her inner-being, and feeding the very soul of the child she carries, he jumps for joy! Understand, it’s not Mary’s word that causes this child (who the angel said to name John) to rejoice, it’s the Word of God who dwells within her and will go out into the world from her that causes him to leap for joy.

My friends, has anything changed? Ask yourself, “What is the Church’s job?” Answer: To proclaim the glories of the Lord through both the condemnation and forgiveness of sin, that is, through Law and Gospel. That’s it. When the Church speaks, you should hear Jesus and Him alone.

Will some of what you hear cause you to be unsettled or uncomfortable? Yes. God loves you enough to tell you the truth. He loves you enough to tell you that you’re a sinner and that what you’re doing or not doing is wrong, and that the wages of your sin, that is, what you have earned with your life … is death. That should leave you feeling uncomfortable, but it’s not the end of the conversation! 

Yes, the wages of sin is death, but on the cross, Jesus died that death for you. And so, you, by grace through faith in Christ, are forgiven. You and all who believe have been redeemed, delivered from sin, death, and the power of satan, not because of how good or awesome you are and not because of how much of a “blessing” you are or think you are to others. No, you’re forgiven because Christ paid the debt you owe, and God is merciful. His mercy is truly peace for the weary soul, and that is what comes to us from God through His Church and is ours to share with the world. As I pray with the children, … asking God that we might share with others the same love and forgiveness we receive from Him.

That brings us to John the Baptist. Only six months along in the womb and he’s already doing the job God sent him to do. Even from the womb he’s making Christ known to others. In John we see a sanctified faith and the joy it brings. We see John completely untainted by human wisdom who can’t help but share his joy.

And that’s exactly what we see in today’s reading, a beautiful picture of life and faith in action.  When Christ is the center of our lives, there is true joy and there is real peace, not just the absence of conflict, but the knowledge and belief that you are one with Christ. 

Mary rejoices and proclaims the joy and peace within her. Elizabeth rejoices. Not only has God kept His Word and promise and sent His Son to deliver mankind from sin, death, and the power of satan, but Mary is also standing in the very presence of this Savior. The Messiah has come to her, to visit with her and greet her with His peace. 

And just in case Elizabeth was slow to understand, the blessed and faithful child she bore in her womb makes all kinds of joyous commotion, confirming for mom, if you will, what Mary had told her, that she is in the presence of the Christ. The blessed and faith-filled child, still being formed in his mother’s womb, understood that the words of peace that were spoken by this humble handmaiden was the Word of almighty God, and his joy is seen by others.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the truth is, nothing has changed. Look around you. We, as God’s holy and precious children, are living safe and secure within the body of Christ. In Him we now, by grace, live and move and have our being. Here in His house, through His word, He is nourishing your faith with His grace, mercy, and love; reaching out His pierced hands to feed you with His very body and blood. Here in His house the water and the Word are poured over you, according to His command in Holy Baptism, so that He might clothe you with His righteousness while promising that He will always be with you until the very end of time.  

So rejoice, refresh your weary souls with His word and Sacrament, for here in His house and with His own words, Christ assures you that by grace through faith you are and always will be His precious and forgiven child.

                                                                                                                        In His name, Amen

Tags: Luke 1:39-56