Wait Upon the Lord with Rejoicing

Luke 1:39-45 NIV 39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

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Today is the third week in Advent. Christmas is less that two weeks away. Time is rolling so fast. We can remember, oh so quickly, the lazy summer days and warm nights, now the days are shorter, and the winds blow the golden leaves here and there—always bunching up around our bushes. More work for us!

Ann and I enjoy all the seasons that God has given us in this bountiful earth. Even winter with its harsh and cold days and increasing less snow. We find joy in that! Certainly, we moan when it’s cold and wet outside – but there is joy inside our home with a crackling fire in our fireplace. The aged oak logs give off a radiant sense of calm and peace in the midst of the storm. For us, there is a joyfulness of our time together and a peace.

This morning we are working with the Scripture in the birth narrative that we find in the Gospel of Luke, the meeting of Elizabeth and Mary.  There are only two birth narratives of the birth of Jesus, one in Matthew and the other in Luke. They are vastly different stories about the same happening – God coming to humanity in human form – the incarnation.

Throughout both Christmas passages in Matthew and Luke we find the word “rejoice” or “overjoyed.” When the Maji visited Bethlehem in Matthew they were overjoyed at the sight of the baby Jesus (probably 2 years old now). In Luke, Mary’s song and the angels singing are songs of rejoicing. We sing Joy to World on Christmas Eve – the Lord has come! In Advent we wait to be able to rejoice and light the Christ Candle as a sign again of the joy that we have in our hearts.

Let’s back up and do a quick definition. Rejoice come from joy. Joy is the noun form that relates to the verbal form of “rejoice.” Rejoice is a word of action, just like love and hope are words of action. The noun “joy,” means to experience gladness. So, there is an emotional component to this. It’s not mere emotion, but it includes what we feel, it includes the emotions, the affections of the heart. The word “rejoice,” means to be in a state of happiness or of wellbeing. It means to rejoice or to be glad. If we were to check Galatians 5:22 — “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace—“

Author Tim Keller defines joy in this way. He says, Joy is to delight in God for the beauty and worth of who God is.” In other words, this joy, Christian joy, is a grace of the Holy Spirit, it is a fruit, the product of the Spirit’s work in our hearts and our lives; it is a joy that is rooted in God himself, it is a joy that can only be experienced by the follower of Christ. In fact, when Paul writes this letter to the church in Corinth, he writes as one who is rejoicing, and remember, he’s writing as a suffering Christian. He’s writing from prison. Even while he’s in prison, even while he doesn’t know whether he’s going to live or die, he is able to rejoice in the Lord. In 2 Corinthians 6:10 Paul described himself as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” So, this is a kind of joy that can actually coexist with sorrow, it can coexist with mourning, it can coexist with lament.

John Newton, the former slave ship captain, who wrote Amazing Grace also describes joy in one of his hymns. This is what John Newton, in his hymn Solid Joys and Lasting Pleasure described as “Solid joys and lasting pleasures / That none but Zion’s children know.” The grace of joy. The only way we can experience this joy is through the grace of God, through the power of the Holy Spirit working and operating in our hearts and in our life. The grace of joy.

Now back to this morning’s Scripture text. In today’s passage, Luke has already written about the pending birth of John the Baptist. Elizabeth has been barren, unable to conceive, and her husband Zachariah cannot believe what the angel Gabriel has told him. Because of his unbelief Zachariah has become mute until the birth of John. In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, the angel Gabriel has also announced to Mary that she will give birth to the Son of God. Even though Mary is a virgin, the power of the almighty God has come over her and she is now pregnant. This is the setting for today’s passage.

In today’s passage, Luke draws the two stories together as Mary and Elizabeth meet in Elizabeth’s hometown in Judea. I like the way one person puts it: “One is old and has no children; the other is young and has no husband. But both are pregnant.” (R.T. France) And now these two mothers-to-be come together, mothers bearing children who will change the world as we know it forever.

One of the things we learn from Scripture is that God views things very differently than we do. We tend to be attracted to the strong and the powerful in this world, while we often overlook the helpless and the weak. In our own culture we seem to be obsessed with celebrities. Just look at any magazine in the check out line of any store. Articles about the rich and famous – hardly anything about the ordinary people and the poor and disenfranchised.

Our God is a mighty God who does mighty things for ordinary people. And although we find this truth throughout the pages of Scripture, one of the most prominent places is right here in this passage. Mary bursts out in a song of praise to the Lord who has done great things for her – a simple, common young woman who simply trusted in the Lord. It’s known as the Magnificat—and is now part of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.

When Mary arrives and greets Elizabeth, something unusual happens. John the Baptist leaps within Elizabeth’s womb. Look at verse 41: “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Now John would have been six months old in the womb at this time, certainly old enough to be moving around in the womb, perhaps kicking from time to time. But whatever movements Elizabeth may have felt before, this was different. Not only that, but this movement coincided with the sound of Mary’s greeting as she entered the house.

Luke tells us something else also happened at the sound of Mary’s greeting. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. This means that the words Elizabeth spoke next came from God. Elizabeth’s words were prophecy as she spoke forth a word from God by the Holy Spirit. First, Elizabeth blesses both Mary and the baby. Verse 42: “In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear!’” (Luke 1:42) This is where the Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death. This is the prayer from the rosary – the beads that you handle that help you focus on prayer.

The Holy Spirit also helped Elizabeth interpret the leaping of her baby within her womb. By the Holy Spirit she knew that this was not just a natural movement, but the baby was actually leaping for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice.  Mary believed that what God said to her will be accomplished. She will give birth to the Messiah.

In about two weeks we will gather in the evening for one of the most joy filled worship services on the Christian calendar. All the tinsel and trappings of a secular Christmas will be behind us. It will be the quiet time to ponder the birth of the Messiah. It will be the time to have our hearts touched by the simply stated words of carols that celebrate the coming of the Christ Child. Rejoice!  Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

Thanks be to God!