Luke 1: 41b—45
Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, proclaimed with a loud cry:
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, the moment your greetings sounded in my ears, the baby in my womb jumped with gladness. Oh, how fortunate is she who believed that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled!”
Now Elizabeth cries blessings upon Mary; and because the Holy Spirit is the source of her word, that word is both true and deep in its truth. It reveals much about the mother of Jesus.
Moreover, it sets Mary up as a model for us, that we might know both the cause of her blessedness, and its quality.
Come: with Mary join the family of Jesus—
- Elizabeth points out the defining characteristics in Mary, the personal cause of her good fortune: “Fortunate (blessed!) is she who believed that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled.”
This is precisely what happened in the exchange between Mary and the messenger of the Lord: “The power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”
And to this promise of a miraculous birth, Mary brought the faith that engenders obedience. She believed the Lord’s words, saying: “Let it happen to me according to your word.”
Quickly, my friend, turn to Luke 11: 27—28 where Jesus himself declares what made Mary most fortunate. An anonymous woman cries out that it must be Mary’s physical motherhood: “How fortunate is the womb that bore you and the breasts you sucked!”
But Jesus revises the reasons for good fortune—and in the process he invites you and me as well to become kin to him as closely as his mother was kin: “No! Rather, fortunate are those who hear the word of God and keep it.”
That’s Mary! She receives the word of God in faith, and faith in her becomes obedience. That, is the cause of the good fortune which Elizabeth immediately recognizes.
Again, friend, turn quickly to Luke 8:19—21 in order to hear this invitation into the family of Jesus yet more clearly. When someone tells Jesus that his “mother and brothers are waiting outside,” Jesus replies with the real cause of kinship: Who are his mother and his brothers? “Those who hear the word of God and do it.”
Yep, that’s Mary. And this particular means for joining the family of Jesus is one we all might share.
2. Elizabeth’s blessing of Mary reveals truths below the touchable surface of mere fact. In the Spirit she utters as well the quality of Mary’s blessed state—again, one which all who hear and keep the word of God might share.
In order to find the first model of Elizabeth’s exclamation, turn to Deuteronomy 28. Moses is standing on the banks of the Jordan River. The children of Israel are just about to cross over, into the land that God had promised them. Moses will not go with them, but his blessings will—so long as “You, ” O Israel, “obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments which I command you this day.”
Look closely at verse 4: “Blessed shall be the fruit of your body. . . .”
It is not accidental that this blessing is repeated by Elizabeth to Mary: Blessed is the fruit of your womb.
Now, then, read the expanded blessing which Moses grants to those who obey, to Israel at the edge of the fulfillment of God’s promise, and to us at the edge of the fulfillment of God’s promise, and to us at the edge of the coming of Christ, at the edge of Christmas. “All these blessings shall come upon you, if you obey: Blessed in the city; blessed in the field; blessed the fruit of your body and of your ground, the fruit of your beasts, the increase of your cattle, the young of your flock; blessed the basket and your kneading through—and you yourself, when you come in and when you go out.”
God shall be our God, and God our providence. That is the quality of the blessing: a Christmas of abundant giving, equal not to our selfish desiring, but to our need.
3. But in this next Old Testament source for Elizabeth’s blessing of Mary, Mary is discovered to stand alone: this one is hers uniquely, though we all take the benefit.
Turn to Judges 5: 24ff. Deborah—a woman like Elizabeth singing in the Spirit of the Lord—utters blessing upon Jael in a form which the Spirit chooses for Mary.
Elizabeth: “Blessed are you among women.“
Deborah: “Blessed among women be Jael.”
Why? What has Jael done? She, one humble woman acting alone, struck the commander of the Canaanite forces, struck the leader of the enemies of the people of God, with a killing blow.
Likewise, Mary alone bore Christ into the world. This humble woman brought forth our Savior, who would himself strike down the forces that desire our defeat, sin and death and the devil!
So perish all thine enemies O Lord!
But thy friends be like the sun as he rises in his might!
Mary may be like Jael. She may stand for Israel and for all the family of Jesus, too.
But Elizabeth is Moses and Deborah, mighty voices of God.
What a wondrous weave your word creates throughout the history of your people! Certain themes keep reappearing, till finally I learn the richness of your love.
So the Christmas story regathers the words you’ve spoken before. And this Christmas repeats all the Christmases I’ve ever celebrated. Slowly, slowly I’m learning.