Monday, December 20, 2021

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Fourth Sunday in Advent (C)

December 19, 2021

Text: Luke 1:39-56

            The Word of God announces the saving presence of Jesus, and imparts the Holy Spirit, who gives faith and joy. 

            Maybe we should call this In Utero Sunday.  On the face of it, the story is about the miraculous mothers, Mary and Elizabeth.  But in truth, the story is about the miraculous babies in their mothers’ wombs, St. John the Baptist, and our Savior, Jesus Christ. 

            Mary is the true Ark of the Covenant, bearing within her womb God Himself, enfleshed in her little Bambino.  It is no accident that she takes the same route King David took as he brought the Ark up to Jerusalem.  And as she comes to the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth, she serves as the spokesman of her Divine Son.  She greets her cousin, and as happens with the Word of the Lord, Mary speaks it, and it fills the hearer with the Holy Spirit.  Elizabeth now knows things that cannot be revealed by flesh and blood, the things of faith.  She knows that the fruit of Mary’s womb is none other than the Lord come to save His people from their sins.  And John, the other bambino in utero, is also now filled with the Holy Spirit.  The Word spoken by Mary fills little John with faith and joy.  Much as David leapt before the Ark of the LORD, St. John leaps in his mother’s womb.  And already as a fetus, the prophet preaches Jesus.  Already in the womb, John points to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

            The New Creation is breaking in here.  The Old is coming to an end in Zechariah and Elizabeth and John.  The priests and the prophets have reached their pinnacle.  The fulfillment of it all has arrived.  Christ has come. 

            John leaps because his salvation is here.  But so also John leaps because his own work has begun.  John prepares the way of the Lord.  Quite literally, that happens by his miraculous conception in the womb of an old woman.  John’s conception is a re-run of Isaac’s miraculous conception by Abraham and Sarah.  Two elderly parents, the mother quite beyond the years of child bearing, nonetheless have a child as the result of God’s Promise.  We could think of others as well.  The barren women of the Old Testament, like Rachel or Hannah, are given sons by the LORD’s intervention.  This says something about the miraculous birth par excellence.  John and his predecessors are miraculously conceived of old or barren women.  Jesus is conceived of a virgin.  John and the others are types of Jesus.  And especially John.  It is what we call in theology, “step parallelism”.  That is to say, what John does, Jesus does, only one step higher.  John goes first.  He prepares the way.  Jesus comes after on the way John prepares.  From miraculous birth through preaching and ministry and all the way to unjust execution by the state, John goes before the Lord.  But John must decrease.  Jesus must increase.  John is the type.  Jesus is the fulfillment.  And it all begins right here at this prenatal meeting of the Lord and His messenger.

            And notice how even as an unborn Child, Jesus commands the scene.  It’s all about Him.  What a profound text this is as a testimony to the worth of the unborn.  Elizabeth rejoices, John leaps, and Mary sings as a result of this little Baby in Mary’s womb.  And Jesus is already doing His saving work.  He endures all the stages of human life, to redeem humanity at every stage.  He is a Blastocyst for blastocysts, a Zygote for zygotes, and Embryo for embryos, a Fetus for fetuses.  What the Lord has redeemed by His incarnation, blood, and death, we dare not treat as disposable.  He is a Newborn for newborns, a Child and a Grownup for children and grownups.  He is a Man for us men and for our salvation.  What our Lord becomes, He redeems.  He takes on our flesh fully, and He saves it and sanctifies it.

            Then there is little Baby John in the womb of his mother Elizabeth.  Six months into the pregnancy, He receives the Word through the voice of Mary, believes, and rejoices.  And he preaches, leaping in the womb.  Now of course, Holy Baptism is ordinarily the means by which God gives His saving gifts to infants.  But what happens here is a great comfort for believing parents who have suffered miscarriages or stillbirths.  This little baby who is not even born, who cannot comprehend what is being said and cannot confess the faith, nonetheless believes on account of the Word.  We know that babies can hear in utero.  They are born already recognizing the voices of their mothers and fathers.  There have been wonderful experiments done where the unborn are exposed to musical stimuli and their physiological reactions and brain impulses are recorded.  Clearly babies can hear inside the womb.  What we know from John is that they also can believe.  Because faith is simply trust in the Lord Jesus.  Just like a baby is born trusting Mom.  He doesn’t know her name.  He can’t understand her words and he can’t say anything about her.  Still, he knows her.  He knows her voice.  And he trusts her.  And in fact, he loves her.  When Christian parents learn they are expecting, they come to Church so that they and their baby can be in the presence of Jesus and His saving gifts, hear the Word of God, and know the voice of Jesus, and they can rejoice that their precious baby belongs to Jesus.

            Mary and Elizabeth are the model Christian mothers, and they teach us what it means to be the Church.  Elizabeth is the Old Testament Church.  She has been waiting all her life for Messiah to come and save His people.  She is married to the priest, and covered by the sacrifices.  And she bears within her the last of the Old Testament prophets, St. John. 

            Mary is the New Testament Church.  Messiah has come to her in mercy and she bears Him within her.  She hears the Word concerning Him and she believes it.  And for this reason, she is blessed.  She, who is poor and lowly and despised in this world, is exalted by God, for the Lord is with her… Literally with her, in her womb. 

            In the same way, the holy Church bears Jesus within her.  He comes to her in mercy.  She hears the Word concerning Him, and believes it, and for this reason she is blessed.  The Lord is with her.  Quite literally, in His Body and Blood in the Supper. 

            And then, having heard and believed the Word of the Lord, Mary sings it.  She confesses the faith in song, the Magnificat,My soul now magnifies the Lord” (Luke 1:36; ESV).  It is the first Christian hymn, and Mary is the first Christian hymn writer, and the Church still sings her song today.  Her song is all about Jesus and what He has done, which is always what Christian hymns should be about.  They should clearly confess Jesus and His redemption for sinners.  Look how the cross is confessed in this marvelous song.  The Lord does His mighty things for the lowly… by becoming lowly, despised, and rejected… the lowest of the low, submitting to death on the cross.  And in this way, He brings down the mighty from their thrones.  Those who are high and exalted in this world and in their own eyes, He brings down.  But He exalts those who are of humble estate, the nothings of this world, the poor, the despised, the sinners, you.  He fills the hungry with good things, but the rich He sends empty away.  Poor little Mary, teenage unwed mother Mary… she is filled!  She is exalted.  She is blessed.  For she is the Mother of God.

            And poor little Holy Church, despised in this world, mocked by the proud and exalted ones, persecuted by the mighty… She is the Bride of Christ.  You poor, despised Christians who know the weakness of your own sinful flesh, whose souls are tortured by the state of things in this world in these gray and latter days, the war and the bloodshed, the slaughter of the precious little babes, the rebellion against our holy and righteous God, like Lot in the midst of Sodom… Jesus calls you friend.  He is not ashamed to call you brother, sister, for you are His own.  He bought you with His Blood.  His Father is your Father.  You are God’s own child, baptized into Christ.  And He breathes His Spirit into you, the breath of faith, the breath of life. 

            So you sing this song, as Mary does.  What is true for her is true for you.  Your soul magnifies the Lord, and your spirit rejoices in God your Savior, because He has looked upon you in the destitution of your sin and death, and He has had mercy upon you.  He forgives your sins, dies for them, in fact, and He is risen and gives you life.  Therefore all generations will call you blessed.  His mercy is for you.  He shows His strength with His arm, the arm nailed to the tree for you.  He scatters the proud, the unbelievers, the scoffers, in the imagination of their hearts.  He brings down the mighty from their thrones.  But you?… You he exalts, at the proper time, in the proper way.  You, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, He fills with Righteousness Incarnate, the Body and Blood of Jesus.  And you are satisfied.  The rich, who scoff at such meager fare, he sends empty away.  He helps you.  He remembers His mercy toward you and He helps you.  Because He promised.  It’s what He promised to Father Abraham.  It’s what He promised to Abraham’s Offspring forever.  The Lord keeps His Word, and you are saved.  So you sing.

            And you leap with the joy of Baby John, here safe in the womb of Mother Church.  For Jesus comes to you and greets you through the voice of Mother Church, through the voice of your pastor, in the Preaching.  And hearing, you are filled with the Spirit, and you believe.  And you are blessed.  Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (v. 45).  That’s Mary.  That’s the Church.  That’s you.

            Christmas is coming, beloved.  Jesus comes.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.   


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