Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people! Amen.
39At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”
In the name of our coming Savior – dear believers in Christ, the Lord;
In a Christmas sermon, Martin Luther said, “Three miracles occurred at the birth of Christ. God became human. A virgin conceived. And Mary believed.” Luther went on to say that the last of the three was the greatest miracle. Yes, you heard that correctly. Yes, Luther is correct to point out that faith is a miracle. So as we consider the account of Mary traveling to the hill country of Judea to visit her cousin Elizabeth – we consider the Christmas miracle of faith. We find the amazing miracle of faith worked by the Holy Spirit pouring off the pages in this account from Luke’s gospel.
Right after the angel left Mary, she headed off to talk to Elizabeth. It was her way of seeking out someone who would understand the incredible thing that had happened to her. After about a 4 day journey Mary arrived to visit with Elizabeth. What a blessing to be able to talk to someone who would understand what was about to happen to her. The angel Gabriel had subtly directed her to visit her relative who was the mother of the forerunner of the Savior. What a miraculous meeting this was!
The miracle of faith shows itself right at the first meeting of these two blessed women. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Two great things happen here. First, the baby leaped in her womb. Already in the womb John was eager to carry out his vocation as forerunner. This unborn baby leaps for joy at hearing that the mother of his Savior was present. The miracle of faith had been worked in this child. Second, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Just hearing the greeting from Mary was the means through which the Holy Spirit grabbed hold of Elizabeth and filled her with the knowledge that Mary would be the mother of the promised Savior.
Stop and think about the practical things we learn from this account. Babies can come to faith in Jesus. Faith is not something that we do – it is a gift of God!
After the Spirit did his work – Elizabeth exclaims: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”
In faith given to her by the working of the Spirit – Elizabeth confesses the truth about her younger cousin, Mary. Mary was truly blessed to have the honor of being the mother of the long-promised Savior. Mary’s son would be an even greater blessing. He is the one that some 30 years later Elizabeth’s son John would point to and say, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” In faith, Elizabeth stands in awe that Mary and the unborn Christ had visited her. Elizabeth recognizes that John leaped for joy at the greeting. The Spirit had been miraculously at work in John already and in keeping with what the angel of the Lord revealed to Zechariah: “…he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.”
Elizabeth also rejoices in the faith of Mary – Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” The announcement Mary had received from the angel was in many ways unbelievable. Things were supposed to happen that are impossible. The angel reminded Mary that all things are possible with the almighty God. But miracle of miracles – Mary believed! Yes, faith is a miracle every time it happens. In this case we clearly see a demonstration of the scriptural teaching – “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” While humans say, “seeing is believing,” God’s people say, “believing is seeing.” While Mary couldn’t explain all that was happening to her and while she didn’t know all that was going to happen – she trusted the promise of God. She trusted that all would be well in the end, even after a few bumps in the road (like a trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem, no place to stay, giving birth in a stable, and so on) God’s purposes would be fulfilled and salvation secured for a world of sinners. Let us rejoice with Elizabeth over this great Christmas miracle – Mary believed that what the Lord said to her would be accomplished. Even our Lord Jesus recognized the great faith Mary had received as a gift from God. In Luke 11 as Jesus addressed a crowd of people a woman called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” Jesus replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Mary was blessed because she heard the Word of God and obeyed it!
Stop this evening to truly consider the miracle of faith. This is a gift that God has given to you by his Holy Spirit at work in his Word and sacraments. Without the gift of faith Christmas is an empty and meaningless observance. If Mary had not trusted God’s word given to her by the angel Gabriel – she would have never traveled to see Elizabeth and would have missed out on all this joy recorded in Luke 1. If our trust and focus is not on Christ – Christmas is nothing. O may the Lord grant us such focused and steadfast faith – that we see this season for what it is, a celebration of the grace of God and his miraculous gift of faith in Jesus. Without faith Christmas is reduced to rushing around to get the shopping done, the cookies baked, the house cleaned, and meals prepared. Without faith Christmas is a time of darkness when we mourn the loss of loved ones and struggle with guilt from the past. Without faith Christmas is empty and lonely. But with faith Christmas is an amazing celebration of God’s grace! Christmas is the answer to our sin and guilt. Christmas removes our sorrow over the death of loved ones, for the child born in Bethlehem came to defeat sin and death. So, in faith, make your own journey – not to the hill country of Judea, but to the Lord’s house. Join us in rejoicing over the Savior’s birth! Don’t be afraid to stay a while. Mary stayed with Elizabeth about 3 months. In faith and with hearts filled with joy rejoice to come to the Lord’s house on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It’s not too much church – it’s too little time to celebrate the greatest gift of all!
We marvel at the grace bestowed on Elizabeth to have a child in her advancing age – a child about whom Jesus would say, “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist …” (Matthew 11:11). We marvel at the privilege young Mary received to carry the Messiah and serve as his mother. Let us also marvel at the grace God has given us that he has chosen us to know and believe in Jesus as our Savior from sin. Let us confess, “I believe in Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord.” Let us rejoice that God has given us the miraculous gift of faith in Jesus to confess and to celebrate. Let us do just that for Christmas. May we confess the name of Jesus, our Savior – as we join the Christmas shepherds in telling everyone the things we have seen and heard! May we also celebrate God’s gift of salvation as we come and worship Christ, the newborn King! Amen.