A reading and reflection for Wednesday, December 19, 2012.
The eighteenth day of Advent.
Click "Read More."
Luke 1:39-45 NRSV
Following Luke's account of the annunciation, of God's revelation to Mary concerning the child she was to bear (1:26-38), we encounter this story of Mary's visit to her relative, Elizabeth. You'll recall that Elizabeth was "getting on in years" (1:7) and had previously been unable to conceive a child. God's news to Zechariah and Elizabeth in the opening verses of this chapter indicate that they would have a son and their son would "make ready a people prepared for the Lord." (1:17).
In our text appointed for today, it is presumed, though the text does not explicitly say so, that whatever mechanism the Holy Spirit used to impregnate Mary had occurred and that she was newly pregnant. And when the newly pregnant Mary, carrying the embryonic Son of God encounters Elizabeth, carrying her own child, Elizabeth was "filled with the Holy Spirit" and was moved to an almost prophetic exclamation: "Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb!"
Those with Catholic backgrounds will immediately recognize the second half of the first part of the "Ave Maria" prayer, a traditional prayer which draws its inspiration from the first chapter of Luke. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb (Jesus).
Following this exclamation, Elizabeth goes on to question: "Why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?" Elizabeth's encounter with the Holy Spirit has opened her eyes to see what would have normally gone unnoticed. The pregnancy of Mary was probably early, but could have been physically visible. And it would have been normal and not unusual for Elizabeth, now six months pregnant, to feel her baby kicking often. But the vision granted to Elizabeth enabled her to see Mary as the "mother of my Lord" and to perceive her own child's movements as confirmation of the incarnation. "For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting the child in my womb leaped for joy." Thus a connection was formed between the child of Elizabeth, John, and the child of Mary, Jesus. Whatever else was going on, the child that was to make people ready for the Lord had begun his work while still in his mother's womb.
Elizabeth's final commendation of Mary is indirect: "And blessed is she who believed there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord." Three times in these verses is the word "blessed" used, as it is translated in English. In Greek, two of these three occurrences is the word "eulogeo" from which we derive the word "benediction" and once it is "makarios" which signifies a more internal state of happiness. Elizabeth's initial exclamation: "Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb" are Spirit-inspired benedictions, commended to Mary by Elizabeth. Her final statement: "Blessed is she who believed..." seems to indicate a self-assuring happiness within Mary given her circumstances. In short, the first two occurrences are words of blessing or benediction spoken over Mary and the final use is establishing Mary's internal disposition to the events.
During these remaining days of Advent we are reminded through the words of this text that God's Spirit enables us to perceive things that would normally go unnoticed. God's Spirit compels us to say and do things that we might normally not say or do. As we prepare to be a people ready for Christ's return, may it be so among us. Let us be constantly on the lookout for Spirit-inspired visions of God's actions among our friends, neighbors, and churches.
1. Why do you think it is important for Luke to note that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit?
2. Have you ever noticed something that you thought God had revealed to you?
3. Why is it that some people seem more tuned to God's activity than others?
In our worship (PCUSA) we often say a prayer for illumination before the reading of Scripture. This prayer is designed to convey our conviction that God's spirit opens the eyes of our heart to understand the words of Scripture. And the truth as, as fallen human beings, we are ever in need of Spirit-led illumination, not just in our worship, but in our daily lives. Consider praying the following prayer as you go about your day today, inviting God to "open your eyes" to see the world in a new light.
God, where your presence is perceived, true understanding is given. Give to me today the gift of your Holy Spirit: open my eyes to see your work, open my ears to hear your voice, open my mouth to proclaim your praise. Help me notice what you are doing among my friends, my family, my neighbors, and my enemies. In everything I do, may I be led by you. Through Christ, I pray, Amen.