Sermon for the Visitation
Isaiah 11:1-5 + Luke 1:39-56
The timing of our celebration of the Visitation, July 2nd, coincides with the 9th day after the nativity of John the Baptist, which is celebrated on June 24th, according to the ecclesiastical calendar, six months before we celebrate the birth of Christ. Because Elizabeth, Mary’s relative, was six months pregnant with John when Gabriel made his announcement to Mary. Gabriel himself informed Mary of that. Then we’re told that Mary went to Elizabeth and stayed with her for three months—until the end of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, so she left Elizabeth’s house about the time John was born. We figure that she waited until after John’s circumcision, which took place on the 8th day after his birth, July 1st on the church calendar. So the next day, July 2nd, properly marks the end of Mary’s visitation with Elizabeth.
But the Gospel for today’s festival tells about the beginning of the visitation, Mary’s arrival at Zacharias’ and Elizabeth’s house, when baby John was about six months in his mother’s womb and baby Jesus was newly conceived in Mary’s womb. The Holy Spirit teaches us many things by the word and example of these two pregnant saints.
First, see how Mary goes immediately and makes the rather lengthy journey from Nazareth to Judah to help her elderly relative during the last three months of her pregnancy. That speaks to Mary’s character, of her love and concern for Elizabeth, and probably also of her desire to have someone to talk to about her own miraculous pregnancy and what the Lord was about to accomplish through each of them as mothers of two very special children.
We learn several things from Elizabeth’s words as she was “filled with the Holy Spirit” after hearing Mary’s greeting. “Blessed are you among women,” she said, echoing the angel Gabriel’s own words to Mary. Mary was one of a kind in human history, the only virgin to conceive, the one whose womb gave a human body to Him who was in the beginning with God and who was God. Mary’s DNA was the Holy Spirit’s raw material for crafting a human body and soul for Jesus that were taken up into the divine nature.
And “blessed is the fruit of your womb.” It’s ironic, isn’t it?, that the human race fell when a woman sinfully ate from the fruit of a tree, and now, the human race’s hope and salvation is wrapped up in the fruit of Mary’s womb. If Mary was one of a kind because of how she conceived, how much more her Son Jesus, because of how He was conceived, and because of His divine and human nature, brought together into one Man, the Savior of mankind. Mary was blessed as the recipient of God’s blessing. The fruit of Mary’s womb is the Creator who is blessed forever. Amen!
Even Elizabeth’s unborn child perceived the presence of Christ through the word Mary spoke. He leaped in his mother’s womb for joy when he heard her greeting. That, by the way, shows us clearly that both John, at six months of gestation, and Jesus, newly conceived, were not clumps of cells or inhuman blobs in their mothers’ wombs, but that both of them were real human persons, able to believe in God, able to rejoice in God.
Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord. It’s really miraculous that Mary did believe Gabriel’s words. She was blessed with a great faith—a faith that serves as a model and example for us every bit as much as Abraham’s great faith does. And again, we marvel at the contrast between Mary and our first mother, Eve, in the Garden of Eden. Eve disbelieved God’s word about the fruit of the tree. But Mary believed God’s word about the fruit of her womb. Eve distrusted God, in spite of all the evidence she could see with her eyes. But Mary trusted God, in spite of the lack of evidence that she could conceive a child as a virgin and give birth to the Son of God. Blessed is she, and blessed are we, too, if we believe God’s promises.
We learn many things from Mary’s words, too, her famous song that we sing regularly: the Magnificat. We only have time to scratch the surface of them this evening.
First, Mary recognizes God’s great goodness and mercy to her personally in raising her up from her lowly estate and granting her honor in the eyes of believers of all times, because she was privileged to carry the Savior—the world’s Savior and hers. She doesn’t magnify herself or make herself into some great person. Instead, she magnifies the Lord and Him alone. My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name.
Then Mary expands her praise to include how God deals with all people. He has mercy on those who fear Him From generation to generation. God is merciful. He is a God who forgives. He is kind and good to those who are miserable and sinful. As it says in Psalm 130. With You there is forgiveness. Therefore You are feared. Because God is merciful for Christ’s sake, we fear Him. In other words, we trust in Him. And He shows mercy to those who trust in Him, who fear Him. He exalts the lowly. He fills the hungry with good things.
But those who are proud, He scatters. Those who exalt themselves He casts down. Those who boast in their riches, He sends away empty. How many times didn’t Jesus say something similar? The first shall be last and the last first. God humbles the proud, but exalts the lowly. He gives sight to the blind, but blinds those who boast that they can see. He makes the foolish wise and the wise foolish.
All of this teaches us to repent of our sinful pride, to humble ourselves, to confess our misery before God because of our sins, because those sinners who recognize their sins and look to God for mercy are just the ones who receive mercy from God and every good thing, as Mary teaches us in her song.
Finally, Mary praises God for His faithfulness, because in sending the Christ to be born in the fullness of time, through her, a daughter of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, God was keeping an ancient promise, keeping His Word to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Israel. Mary drives us back to the Old Testament to see the Christ foretold there, to see all of history as the story of God’s faithfulness in sending the promised Savior.
As we celebrate the Visitation today and learn from these two holy women, Elizabeth and Mary, rejoice together with them. Whatever problems there are going on in your life, whatever turmoil this world is facing, whatever sins you have been dealing with, the message of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth is the message of God’s gracious visitation to us in the midst of our misery. Rejoice with Elizabeth. Because Christ has come to you to visit you with His greeting of peace. And rejoice with Mary. Because God has given you the body and blood of His Son, too, to live in you and to dwell in you and to save you from your sins. In the name of Jesus. Amen.