The Joy of this Visit
Rev. Kurt Lantz The Visitation Luke 1:39-56
July 02, 1969 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Dear people who have been visited,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Over the last few days we received some special visitors at our home. My brother-in-law and his family from Regina SK came for a visit. We usually only see them once every few years, so the visits seem a little more special than when nearby family members visit, although it is not really. You know, we can see the others just about any time we choose and we love them just as much. Still, a visit from halfway across the continent requires planning, commitment and a fair cost.
It would have been a fair commitment for Mary in Nazareth to visit her relative Elisabeth in the hill country outside of Jerusalem. It was most of the way across Israel (not such a vast country as Canada, but without planes, trains, and automobiles). So it was natural that Elisabeth was happy to see Mary arrive. And adding to the joy was that the visit was during the time of their pregnancies. There is a special bond that develops when two women share that time of carrying children in their wombs. It is thought that Elisabeth was in her last trimester and Mary in her second. Mary’s visit would provide a much welcomed helping hand for elderly Elisabeth and an imparting of gracious wisdom to young Mary.
But there was something even greater going on that heightened their joy to ecstatic levels. It was a spiritual experience for the both of them and for the children that they bore. They didn’t just call out a hello, and there was more than a running to embrace. Something supernatural happened at this visitation. Something divine was in play.
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 a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
There was the leaping of a baby in the womb, a spirit-filled exclamation, an overwhelming feeling of unworthiness showered with grace, and a wondrous thankfulness that the Lord had answered prayers not just with promises, but with their fulfillment in His own direct, miraculous touch.
Visits bring joy. We await the arrival of those who have promised to come. We anxiously wonder if we have everything prepared and ready. We receive word that they are on their way, but none of that compares to when they show up at the house and voice their greeting. And this visit of Mary and Jesus to Elizabeth and John brought unimaginable joy fuelled by the Holy Spirit pointing out the promises in God’s Word which He was fulfilling right then and there.
Happy children jump and bounce in the driveway as their cousins arrive. John the Baptist, still in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy when he heard the voice of Mary. Through the repeated readings of Old Testament prophecy in the house of Zechariah his priestly father, he had heard his mother speak the promises of God to send a Saviour into the world. At the sound of Mary’s voice, John knew the time had come. He leaped in the womb as Mary came walking up the path, just like King David danced before the ark of the covenant on the road to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6). The LORD was coming to his house, bringing grace and blessing and honour and joy.
We are so joyful to have children in the womb here with us in church. Today’s Gospel reminds us that the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God which penetrates to soul and spirit, and as the writer to the Hebrews says, even through body parts of joints and marrow (Hebrews 4:12). We are confident that the Word of God has passed through belly and amniotic fluid and reached the souls of those whom we are eagerly waiting to greet on the day of their birth.
The studies that show that children in the womb react to the sound of music and of the mother’s heartbeat and voice (and the father’s too)—those studies are incapable of measuring the great power of God’s Word wielded by the Holy Spirit. Medical science has advanced to the point where some procedures and operations can be done for children while they are still in their mother’s womb, but no laparoscopic technique can penetrate so deeply and accurately as the Word of God. Keep reading the Word and speaking your prayers aloud and singing the hymns of faith, not just for the family members who have their own chairs at the table, but also for those who are curled up in the warm wombs of their mothers.
Elizabeth received a poke in the ribs from inside as John the Baptist leaped in his confines. But it was the prodding of the Holy Spirit, reminding her of the promises of God that shoved against her diaphragm and pushed the air out of her lungs in the exclamation to Mary: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” That is not a Roman Catholic phrase or hymn that is to be shunned, but a song in faithful response to the Holy Spirit that deserves our accompaniment.
It was no pope or nun that composed those words, but the Holy Spirit Himself who inspired them as a faithful confession made to the Blessed Virgin. There are some erroneous human additions and compositions that ought not pass through our lips, but the devotion that Elizabeth showed to her younger kinswoman and the words that both she and the angel Gabriel spoke to her, which are recorded for us in Scripture, can and should find expression on our lips as well. For they are words about this humble woman who has been blessed by God. To acknowledge her as blessed is to praise the One who blessed her and to find joy in His grace to the unworthy who are given worth by Him.
Elizabeth rejoiced that the mother of God had come to her. She rejoiced like the Old Testament people of Jerusalem rejoiced when the ark of the covenant came through the city gates. The vessel carrying the LORD of hosts had entered. God instructed Moses to make the ark of the covenant with a mercy seat upon which the LORD Himself would sit to be present with His people (Exodus 25:17-22). He was with them through the years in the wilderness to the promised land.
The priests carrying the ark stood in the Jordan River and its waters heaped up to let the people cross over (Joshua 3:14-17). The ark was carried with the army into battle and the LORD gave them success even over the mighty walled cities like Jericho. The presence of the LORD brought protection and blessing and victory to His faithful people. When the Philistines had stolen the ark away from Israel, they were plagued with cancerous tumours. The LORD brought death and destruction to those who tried to conquer and capture and control Him. They sent the ark back to Israel. When it was stored at the home of Obed-Edom, the LORD blessed his household.
Elizabeth rightly asked, “Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” It was the same thing that King David asked when trying to bring the ark to Jerusalem. It is granted out of the pure grace of God. No one deserves the blessed presence of the LORD. David knew that and it led him to rejoice with dancing when the ark was brought to Jerusalem. Elizabeth knew that and it led her to exclaim with joy when Mary came to her house while the LORD sat enthroned in her womb.
“Blessed is she who believed there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Mary is full of joy because the Lord kept the word that He spoke to her by the angel Gabriel, who said, “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-33).
Elizabeth is full of joy when Mary and Jesus come to visit because the Lord kept the word that He spoke to her husband Zechariah by the angel Gabriel, “your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord... and he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah... to make ready of the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:13-17).
Even John was happy in his mother’s womb, leaping for joy that the LORD God had fulfilled all of the promises written in the Law of Moses, and the Prophets, and the Psalms. At John’s birth, his father sang out: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people” (Luke 1:68). All of God’s people including you and I rejoice for God visited us in the person of Jesus Christ. He became flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He took on our human nature and bore all of our sins in His own body upon the cross. He suffered and died, receiving the condemnation that we all deserve. And He rose again from the dead, victorious over sin, death, and the devil. Now He sits bodily at the right hand of God and still comes to visit us bodily to give us forgiveness, life, and salvation.
Rejoice! For the Lord God had come to visit you. In the humble vessels of bread and wine, His body and blood enter this house through the Word of His promise. It is the same Word promised to Mary, to Zechariah and Elizabeth, to John the Baptist, and all the faithful people of God. He has come to this house to bestow His blessings upon you, to forgive your sins, to strengthen your faith, to heal your diseases, to give you life everlasting with Him.
With all of the preparations that you make to be here at church, it can sometimes seem like a chore, like an inconvenience, like an unnecessary bother. But the Lord makes His visitation here in His Word and Sacrament. He has come to redeem His people. He enters with His body and blood and sounds His greeting of peace. Rejoice! This is the day of His visitation to you.