The Gospel According to Elizabeth
Fourth in a Series of Seven Sermons / The Gospel According to Us
December 22 and 23, 2018
Micah 5:1-5 and Luke 2: 39-45
39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be[g] a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
Dear Christian Friends,
Our sermon series these days is “The Gospel According to Us”, and in our previous three weekends, we have received the good news from the perspective of a donkey (three weeks ago), John the Baptizer (two weeks ago), and last week the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf, dead people, and the poor.
About 15 years ago, a group of 40 or so of us from Janesville and West Fargo North Dakota took a mission trip to a remote and mountainous town named Sicachique in the region of Chihuahua, Mexico. There we spent five or 6 days living among and trying to be helpful to and witnessing to the Tarahumara Indians. These Tarahumara were as poor and as hungry and as hopeless as folks can be, and as we drove away, we couldn’t help wonder why we were so blessed with so much and they were blessed with so little, in terms of worldly stuff and opportunity. The next year we returned, and the year after that, and the year after that as well. This was our Sicachique Mission Trip question that we kept asking ourselves – why were we so blessed with so much and they with so little, at least in terms of money and the stuff money can buy.
Which leads us to the question Elizabeth was asking in today’s Gospel lesson - And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? “This” of course refers to the very Messiah of the universe being knit together in the womb of Mary, and here they are in her presence. Leading to our question of the day – Elizabeth wondering out loud why she and not somebody else is being graced with a such a visitation from on high
When Elizabeth exclaims that blessed is Mary among women and blessed is the fruit of the womb, she uses the Greek word eulogamena, from which we get the English word eulogize. To be eulogized is to be blessed specifically by God and for his purposes. When Elizabeth cries out to Mary that blessed are you among women, she is saying that Mary has found favor with God and all generations will be calling her blessed. When she exclaims that blessed is the fruit of your womb, she is recognizing this child as the one long promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob etc.
No doubt Mary is wondering with her as well, why would the Lord choose us, among all women, to be favored in such a way? So much blessedness was coursing through the veins of Elizabeth and Zechariah in these days. In those days, not being able to have children was consider a curse from on high. No doubt it seemed to this elderly couple that God was hiding his face from them. Even worse than that, it had been 450 years since the prophet Malachi had spoken the Word of Yahweh to Israel. 450 years, there had been silence from on high until the day Zechariah the priest was performing a once in a lifetime duty in the Jerusalem temple. These were Zechariah’s 15 minutes of fame as he oversees the lighting of incense inside of the priestly part of the sanctuary, and in that hour the angel of the Lord announces that his wife would bear a son to be named John.
Elizabeth had to be wondering why God would use regular and unimpressive and small town people like Zechariah and her. Why should she be blessed with so much joy and other women with so little. Three answers to that question we offer today. First there is the obvious/ short term / simple answer. Secondly there is a deeper / a long-term / comforting answer. Third, there is the ultimate / theological / stop and make you think answer.
The first / obvious / short term / simple answer to the question of Elizabeth of why she and Mary should be so blessed is So that a Savior could be (born) The grace of God is by definition free and undeserved. Throughout all of Old Testament history, God made it clear that he set his affections on the nation of Israel, not because of any merit or worthiness in them, but simply because he was fulfilling a promise that out of this nation a Savior would be born. Abraham and Isaac and Jacob were chosen to be fathers of a great nation not due to their good behavior nor steadfast obedience, but for this obvious reason - a Savior needed to be born. The little town of Bethlehem and the tribe of Judah were chosen not because of their majesty nor their righteousness, but because a Savior needed to be born.
But of course, Christmas is by no means the end of the story, it’s one giant step towards the day on which all of history turned – Good Friday. Although pregnancies and the days babies are born are about as joyful as life can get here on earth, the deeper reality is that those days are entrance into life that is short and full of trouble. John the Baptist’s earthly life was short and full of trouble – he spent his last days in prison and his death came, as you may know, by beheading. So alsoand Jesus, as you well ended up hanging on a cross, which is about as awful a death as you could imagine. So where’s the blessedness of a Savior being born?
The second / the deeper / the long-term / the very comforting answer to the question of Elizabeth of why she and Mary should be so blessed - More than that, so a King might shepherd (His flock). This is the language of Micah chapter 5 where he predicts not only the Christmas story but also the Good Friday and the Easter and the Ascension and the Pentecost stories. Not only does Micah prophesy that the Messiah would be born in a little town of Bethlehem, he fast forwards to the day when the Good Shepherd would lay down his life for his sheep, he fast forwards to that time when that Good Shepherd would rise up on the third day, he would ascend into the heavens and crowned as King on the 40th day, and he and his Father would send forth His Holy Spirit on the 50th day – for this deeper, this long term, this very comforting purpose – that this King would stand in New Testament days, he would stand strong and by means of the waters of Baptism and by means of the preaching and teaching of His Word and by means of the eating and drinking at His Supper, He would shepherd, he would watch over, he would follow around his flock with goodness and mercy.
(Story of recent hospital visit where a much loved husband / father / now grandfather was lying in intensive care, trying to survive a very difficult surgery. Together his bride and I read through Scripture, we prayed, we quietly watched skilled nurses and medical folks do their amazing work, we reminded ourselves to trust in God and not be afraid, and on the way back to the waiting room, Carol said what pastors hear often, “what do people do who have no faith in God?”
Micah long ago predicted it, “They shall dwell secure, for now he / their Savior shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.”
Answer #1 to Elizabeth’s question of why she and Mary would be so blessed was so that a Savior could be born. Answer #2 was so that all generations of believers could dwell secure and know what it is to have the peace that only Jesus can give.
The third / ultimate / theological / stop and make you want to think answer to the question of Elizabeth as to why she and Mary and we should be so blessed Ultimately, so that the Lord’s Name could be (magnified).
Mary’s response to Elizabeth is to sing a song we know as the Magnificat. She starts out singing, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. She goes on and on about how he who is mighty has done great things for her, and holy is his name.
In our Lord’s Prayer, we pray “Our Father who art in heaven, and then we pray hallowed be thy name. We find ourselves praying for a name that is already holy to be holy. What’s up with that? Luther explains, “God’s name is indeed holy in itself, but we pray in this petition that it may be holy among us also” In terms of how this is done, he explains that we keep God’s name holy when we do two things – first we teach according to his name, and secondly we live according to his name.
Which leads us to our concluding thought for the day. To whom much has been given, (much is required)
Elizabeth did her part in the salvation story, and one more time, we remember that we have a part to play as well. Remember that this sermon series is entitled “The Gospel According to Us.” Along with our Mission Society on those Sicachique mission trips, we ask why God has blessed us with so much money and so much stuff that money can buy? Along with Elizabeth, we ask why God has blessed us with so much grace, with so much mercy, with so much peace, with so many opportunities to let our lights shine?
The answer is simple – We have been blessed so that we might be a blessing to many. That’s another way of saying we have been loved that we might love, forgiven that we might forgive, served that we might serve, strengthened that we might strengthen others, and to say it in a way meant to help you stop and think about it this morning – to whom much has been given, much is required.
And speaking of much being required, I ran across an article regarding Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna and his friend Ignatius in the second century A.D.
“Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong,” said Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, in AD 156 before climbing onto a pyre where Roman authorities would burn him to death. Eyewitnesses reported the local authorities respected Polycarp and begged him to recant his faith in Christ. He would not. The Romans did not even tie Polycarp to a post because they knew he would not flee the fire. Polycarp fed his captors, prayed over them, then climbed the pyre to die.
Authorities carted off Polycarp’s friend Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, and fed him to wild beasts in the Circus Maximus on July 6, 108. Ignatius had refused to renounce Christ. Historians of that time tell us Polycarp and Ignatius were students of the Apostle John.” To whom much is given, much is required.
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