What would make you literally leap for joy? Think of the End of WWII, those picture is unbridled, pure joy. There was leaping for joy at the falling of the Berlin Wall. Maybe the birth of a child, or grandchild. How about winning the lottery, that would make some of us pretty joyful, amen! What if you get even better news than that, you get the news that you are now cancer free, would that make you leap for joy??
When war ends and tyrannies topple, when prosperity comes and sickness leaves, that’s good news. That’s the kind of news Mary and Elizabeth celebrate together. The good news that the kingdom of god, the government of god, the reign and rule of god is at last breaking into the world, a world that for too long has been ruled by proud and brutal tyrants.
The story begins like this – with an old Jewish couple named Zechariah and Elizabeth. They always wanted children but children did not come. When Zechariah is praying and burning incense in the temple an angel appears to him. “And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and 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 must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” Luke 1:12-15 ESV
Six months later same angel, Gabriel is sent to the backwater of Nazareth with the announcement to a young girl, Mary, that though she is a Virgin she will conceive a son who will be a savior. So Mary immediately leaves Nazareth to travel 70 miles south to visit with Elizabeth, her older cousin.
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. Mary Greets Elizabeth, maybe with “shalom”, a typical Jewish greeting. But Elizabeth is filled with Holy Spirit and responds with with an unusual greeting. “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”” Luke 1:41-45 ESV. Yes, that is quite a greeting!
At the same time Elizabeth greets Mary, her baby leaps for joy in her womb. That baby is John the Baptist. John is the first of all the Baptists, there will be many more. I don’t think there’s been a Baptist since who was so excited to hear about Mary…
Let’s not miss the symbolism here. We have a woman almost too old to be a mother about to give birth to a son who will bring to a close the old age, the Old Testament age. We have a woman almost too young to be mother who is going to give birth to a son who will bring in the new age. They are meeting and rejoicing together. As it says prophetically in the Old Testament, the old will serve the younger, Elizabeth is serving Mary, John will serve Jesus, the Old Testament will serve the new.
Back to Mary. Whatever image we have in our minds about Mary, she is not safe, tame or demure. She is in fact something of a radical revolutionary, this is very amazing young girl.
The Spirit then comes upon Mary, and in the power of the Holy Spirit she brings forth her song. It’s an adaptation of Hannah’s song 1000 years earlier, along with a little from the songs of Moses Miriam and Deborah. It is One of most famous Christian songs in history, prayed, sung, and chanted everyday by Christians around the world.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, for he has remembered his promise of mercy, The promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.
It’s a song about God and revolution. It’s about God injecting himself into the world in a way that things will be revolutionized. It’s not a weak, soft ballad. It’s not even a power ballad. Mary’s song comes with a stomp. It could be a hip hop song today. It is a prophecy of revolution.
Set the scene fully. We have two Jewish women, both poor and oppressed, living in an occupied land. A land occupied by a foreign superpower. They belong to a nation of people being oppressed. But in their poverty and their oppression they are suddenly overflowing with joy because they believe something big is about to happen. They believe God is about to act in such a way as to launch a revolution through their two sons. They are both pregnant in improbable ways, one too old, one too young (and a Virgin at that), yet they both have sons about to be born six months apart, sons they will name John and Jesus. They believe that God himself is going to act within history and launch a revolution through their two sons. They believe the coming revolution is in fact the Kingdom of God. They believe God’s way of running the world is going to come into the world through their two boys. And there they are stomping and prophesying and rejoicing in a little Judean hilltop town.
The whole scene is absurd. Two unlikely pregnant women living in poverty in an obscure out of the way corner of the world prophesying that the world is about to be radically changed through their soon to be born babies. It’s crazy, it’s ridiculous, it’s absurd. And it’s absolutely true.
“In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.”
Luke 1:39-56 ESV