8 September 2010

Luke 1:39-47

"For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord." (v.44-45)


On this day some parts of the Church celebrate the birth of Mary the mother of Jesus, but the Bible itself does not speak of this. Instead, in Luke chapter 1, we first meet her as a mother-to-be. The story of how Mary learned from the angel Gabriel that she, whilst still a virgin, would find herself pregnant, comes immediately before today's passage. And before that we learn of how Mary's cousin Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah conceived a child in old age. God told them that this child - John - would prepare the people to receive their Lord.

Elizabeth was six months pregnant with John when Mary was visited by the angel, but she had not yet made public that she was expecting. It was the angel who made the fact known to Mary, thus encouraging her to "set out ... with haste" to visit her relative and check out the story, thereby learning that she could trust the other part of the angel's incredible message to her. The journey from Nazareth to the Judean plateau was almost 100 miles, so the best part of a week's journey on foot.

In those days, greetings were quite formal and elaborate, even between relatives. The response to Mary's greeting, first by the unborn John, and then by his mother, is not apparently related to what she says. Instead there is a recognition, said to be prompted by the Holy Spirit, that she is now a very special person, making it an immense privilege for Elizabeth to entertain her.

Elizabeth remarkably calls Mary's unborn child "my Lord" in verse 43. "Lord" is both used in the Bible to translate the personal name of God and is the equivalent of the English 'sir'. In calling him "my Lord" Elizabeth is using the term to refer to God's promised agent of salvation, the Messiah long expected by the Jewish people.

Because all of this fits together so remarkably, more than fulfilling Mary's hopes from the visit, her own response is one that praises God.

To Ponder

Have you ever found things fitting together so perfectly in your life that praising God has been the most natural thing to do? What were the circumstances?

Some say that babies in the womb physically move in response to a mother's emotions, but here, according to verse 44, it seems to be the other way around. Perhaps we should regard this as a miracle, but at what stage - if at all - do you think an unborn baby may be capable of independent emotions?

What are the similarities and differences between Elizabeth being "filled with the Holy Spirit" and thereby having knowledge nobody has told her, and the claims of fortune tellers?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Stephen Mosedale

Stephen Mosedale is a recently retired Methodist minister now living in Devon. He is enjoying the freedom that gives, whenever mood and weather dictsate, to walk on Dartmoor, photograph varied and ever-changing seascapes, or grow vegetables in the garden.