At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I as favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her! -Luke 1:39:45
So following along in our devotional that we've been using through the season, this is the week in the fullness of time, joy, the joy has come and... Beginning with a quote from Henri Nouwen, and he describes joy is this, He says, Joy is the experience of knowing that we are unconditionally loved and that nothing sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death can take that love away. So joy is the experience of knowing that we are unconditionally loved, that we are loved no matter what, no matter what has happened to us, no matter what we've done, no matter what we think makes us unworthy, we are loved unconditionally. Well, looking at our text this morning, we need to set the stage here a little bit, that word joy pops up in there when Elizabeth makes her proclamation to marry, but we need to understand all the things that are going on in her life, and in Mary’s up until this point. So in the beginning of the gospel of Luke, in that first chapter, Zechariah and Elizabeth are elderly, they've not had any children, and Elizabeth has been considered to be barren, now, this is not necessarily a joyful moment or joyful experience for her, even today, many women, long and desire to be a mother.
And Elizabeth was feeling unfulfilled in that, and God appeared to Zacharias the temple and say, guess what, you're gonna have a child, Zachariah. Well, Zachariah's response was, Yeah, right. And so the angel that delivered this message said, Guess what, because you didn't believe, you're not gonna be able to speak until this child is born.
But it's going to happen, and we're told then that Elizabeth conceives and is pregnant, but it says that she then remained in isolation, for five months. Now, we don't know everything that went into this today, women, that have difficult pregnancies, have to be on bed rest and things like that, but Elizabeth who's been told and is experiencing her heart's desire something, she's long for something that should fill her with joy. She's in isolation, which to me means she's not been able to share this news with anybody or talk to anybody about it, she's isolated and by herself, probably, I would suspect, filled with some fear and anxiety, five months... Only four to go. We're getting closer. Is this really gonna happen? She's uncertain, she's unsure, and all of those things are threatening to rob her of that joy that that moment should be bringing her. So then we move forward in the Gospel to this angel appearing to Mary, young Mary, a virgin, engaged but not yet married, and the angel says, Guess what, God's found favor with you and you're gonna conceive a child, and Mary says, How can this be... I've been a good girl. The angel says God will make it possible. And in one of the most faith-filled statements ever uttered, Mary says, may it be so with me as you have said. Now, friends, that was a faith statement on Mary's part, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's gonna make life any easier for her because she was young, she wasn't yet married, she didn't know if Joseph was gonna stick with... Or for that matter, her life could have been in jeopardy because rightfully, even though they weren't married, they were engaged
And well, to become pregnant would have implied that something happened that shouldn't have… Implying that Mary had been unfaithful to her betrothed, Joseph rightful and justly could have demanded that she be stoned. He didn't. But nonetheless, Mary decides to go. Maybe it was her parent's idea to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who she's heard is pregnant as well, which brings us to our text this morning.
Elizabeth, six months pregnant now, because Mary received word of her pregnancy from the angel in the sixth month, we're told... It says Mary set out and went with haste to this town in Judea where a cousin Elizabeth lives, and it says when Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting the child left in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and makes with a loud voice this proclamation.
Now, considering that Elizabeth has been secluded and by herself, her cousin Mary is coming to greet her, and so finally there's somebody for her to share this with, but before she even really has a chance to say anything, we're told that John, her unborn child, left in her womb, now, this word joy is an important word in all of this that we're talking about. If we went a little further along into Chapter Two... After Jesus is born, those angels appeared to the shepherds out in the field, saying, We bring you good news of great joy for all the people. And often with it comes to Christmas, we think about the angels making that pronouncement of joy, but the first recorded response that we have, the joyful response to the news that God was coming to this world was Elizabeth’s unborn child, so between that child leaping in her womb, and the Holy Spirit moving in Elizabeth's life, she suddenly is able to make this bold and joyful proclamation of her own, she says, Blessed are you among women, Mary, and blessed is that child that you're carrying… Why has this happened to me? That the mother of my Lord has come to me. For as soon as I heard your greeting, the child in my womb left for joy. And blessed is she who believes that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.
Elizabeth, In making the statement of joy was prompted by the joy that her child, her unborn child, had at that encounter in that presence of Jesus in Mary's womb, she was moved by the Spirit to make her own pronouncement, and what happened in that moment was in my understanding of this, she finally and fully became aware of how unconditionally loved she was, you see, I think that now in is on to something when he says that joy is our experience of knowing that we are unconditionally loved, our experience of knowing that we're unconditionally loved and up until that point, Elizabeth hadn't felt very loved, in fact, she had probably all those fears of being a new mother that we're weighing upon her, all of those things that were making her pull back from this love that God was offering her and showing her.
And yet when that child stirred and when the spirit moved, she understood how loved she truly was, and even in that statement of Mary having come to her, carrying the child of God, Elizabeth, still the same, why me? Why am I so blessed? Why is this happening to me? I'm praying that I'm having to have a child, and even you now coming to visit me
In that moment, Elizabeth was experiencing that unconditional love of God in a way that she had not experienced before then, and that joy burst forth and her proclamation. That joy of God's unconditional love is what stirred that infant, that unborn child that Elizabeth was carrying to leap for joy as well, that at the presence of Mary carrying Jesus in her womb, John lept in Elizabeth with joy, the excitement of knowing how loved he was as well, the God... As we read in John 3:16, so loved this world. And I guess we could insert God so unconditionally loved this world. That he sent his son to a world that didn't deserve His son, that was unworthy of a son, and yet he sent him nonetheless to demonstrate that love for us.
That joy that Elizabeth experienced, and John experienced is also the joy that Mary experiences in that moment of having someone acknowledge that you are blessed, never mind that you're unwed, never mind that you're young, never mind that our culture around us says that you've apparently sinned to be pregnant. Never mind all those things because you, Mary, are blessed. You are unconditionally loved by God. And that stirs something in Mary. We didn't read the next portion of Luke chapter 1, but if you have time this afternoon or this week, I'd encourage you to read what's called Mary's song of praise on the Magnificat, in which Mary responds to everything that Elizabeth has just said, And she begins by saying My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior for he has looked with favor on the lowest of His servants. I'm not sure Mary was fully aware of how loved she was when she set out to meet Elizabeth, but between the Spirit moving in Elizabeth's life and Elizabeth sharing those words with Mary. I think, again, as it's recorded for the first time, Mary is able to respond with joy of her own and what God is doing in and through her, and friends, that is the good news of this season.
That we are loved unconditionally, God has loved us enough that He sent Jesus into the world to live as one of us, to be among us, and yes, to even die for us, that is the extent that is how unconditional that love is. That God has for us, and that should give us joy at all times because that joy comes from the promises that God has made and confirmed through his son Jesus, that that joy that we've been given doesn't depend upon any circumstance in life, it isn't dependent upon our health, our wealth or anything else, that joy is a gift from God and God alone, and so we may experience ups and downs in our health, our wealth may come and go, circumstances may be wonderful and fill us with happiness, or they may be downright terrible, and yet that love, that love that was demonstrated through Jesus, that love that made that unborn baby, John leap for joy, and Mary to make her proclamation and Elizabeth to make hers, that joy, is what resounds within us. That joy, because we are loved, is what we are called upon to share with this word, so it is in that fullness of time that God declared His love for us that we might truly know what joy is, and may that joy, that joy that we found and continue to find in the season of Christmas, be the joy that continues to bless us and put a smile on our face, even though the nations rage, even though natural disasters happen and pandemics rise their heads yet again, may it be the joy that comes from being loved by God, that lets us be his people.