In this multilayered visitation between Mary, Elizabeth, their sons, and the Triune God, we find guides for our lives of waiting and hoping, and promise of how we, too, might delight in God’s promised mercy.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Fourth Sunday of Advent, year C
Text: Luke 1:39-45 (plus 46-47)
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
We don’t hear from the boys today, and that’s a blessing.
Advent is lots of listening to John and Jesus, familiar voices, voices that sometimes disagree with each other about what God’s coming will be like. From apocalyptic warnings to threats to calls to bear fruits of repentance, so far Advent has been ringing with the voices of these two men.
Not today. Today we have the gift of sitting with two pregnant women, basking in their kindness and grace to each other. The boys are here, but they’re voiceless and hidden, in utero; they have no lines in this scene. Elizabeth and Mary radiate hope and joy, and to be in their presence is a delight.
Elizabeth and Mary are also far better companions for our Advent waiting on God. Jesus and John don’t always feel approachable, the fiery Baptist and the Savior of the world. But it’s easy to imagine sitting in a kitchen with Mary and Elizabeth, listening to the voices of these women who in more ways than one carry inside themselves hope for God’s healing of all things.
This visitation of Mary to Elizabeth is richly layered.
Newly-pregnant Mary is visiting her relative, Elizabeth, fresh off meeting Gabriel. She goes far south to Judea to be with someone who can help her sort out what she’s feeling, what she’ll do. She’s clearly not there for pregnancy support or to hide her condition: Mary leaves after three months, just when she’s beginning to show, just as Elizabeth is ready to deliver. What Mary needs is wisdom, comfort, perspective.
Elizabeth, in turn, receives great joy from her delightful cousin. Her son leaps inside her at the arrival of Mary. Mothers know the movements of their babies, and Elizabeth knew this was different than the usual kicks. This baby leapt at the coming of God’s Messiah, and his mother was filled with joy. And now she has someone to share this joy, someone who understands what it is to face such unknowing, someone with whom she can spend three blessed months together.
This is our first sign that we want to be like Elizabeth and Mary. They need each other. They both face realities they weren’t prepared for, they both need to process what God is doing in them and with them. Together, they find support, and love, and wisdom, and joy as they wait and wonder. Together, so do we.
This is also a visitation of the Triune God amongst and within these two.
Elizabeth is the first person in Luke’s Gospel and its sequel about whom we are told, “she was filled with the Holy Spirit,” and she’s not the last. For Luke, the entrance of the Holy Spirit into humanity, just as the Spirit lived and breathed in Jesus, is the promise of God’s empowering of a new creation. Before Elizabeth, in Luke, Gabriel promises to Zechariah that before John was even born, he’d be filled with the Holy Spirit, and promises to Mary that her son’s conception would be by the Holy Spirit.
But Elizabeth is the first of many to come whose moment of being filled with the Holy Spirit is actually told. She also carries her Spirit-filled unborn son within her. And Mary carries the child begun by the Spirit. This little Judean house, on these seats by the hearth, glows with the light of God’s coming, the fire of the Spirit’s breath, as if it were the Day of Pentecost itself.
This is our second sign that Elizabeth and Mary are our guides. Beautiful, ordinary women, they are the first to reveal the joy and blessing of when the Holy Spirit of God comes into us. They show us what God’s Spirit looks like in us.
Here’s another layer to this visitation: together they see God better.
Both have questions about their own suitability. Mary asks Gabriel, “how can this be, that I would carry God’s Son?” Elizabeth says, “why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord has come?” Apart, they aren’t sure they’re worthy of this.
But together they witness to each other, confirm that God has come, that the other is honored. Elizabeth sees Mary, feels John leap, and declares Mary blessed among all women, the mother of God. How reassuring that must have been for Mary, full of questions, to hear!
And Mary’s coming also confirms Elizabeth’s place in God’s blessing. As her own child leapt, Elizabeth is filled with confidence that God indeed is working in her.
This is our third sign that we want to walk with Mary and Elizabeth: alone, we can’t always see God moving in us, we can’t often believe we’re worth something to God, or useful. But together, as the Spirit fills us, we witness to the presence of God we see in each other, we declare each other’s worth in God’s eyes, we leap for joy at the blessings we see God doing in each other.
Hear the voices of these women God has visited, and know God’s visitation yourself.
Elizabeth says: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
Listen to her, listen to Mary, their wisdom is for you, to help you believe. Watch, and do what they do: visit each other, love each other, find delight in what God is doing in each other. Elizabeth and Mary stand before you as signs of what God has done, and what God is doing. The world will be turned upside down, they sing, those who are hungry will be filled with good things, those who are poor will find all they need, those who are lowly will be lifted up and honored. Power will be turned on its head. God’s promise of mercy for this broken world will come to pass.
This is the song these women sing as witness. And they sing this song for you. So you also might share their delight and joy, their comfort and hope in God’s healing coming to all things. Blessed are you to believe that God will fulfill what God has promised to do in you, in the body of Christ, in the world.
In the name of Jesus. Amen
 Some ancient Latin versions of Luke give the Magnificat to Elizabeth instead of Mary. Perhaps they sang this grace together!