The most wonderful time of the year, apparently. Chaotic family gatherings, searching for sales and gifts in stores, disordered parking lot rules. Every year, this season comes around. We have heard the saying, ‘Jesus is the reason for the season.’ Nevertheless, we might know the reason for this season, but do we know the response that we should have? When we think or celebrate the incarnation of Jesus, the Son of God, coming down to earth and dwelling amongst his people, what should we do? Or to put it another way, how should we respond when we consider the gospel of Jesus Christ? It is not the most wonderful time of the year if all we have is the tainted traditions of man and commercialized sales tactics. It is not the time of year that makes this wonderful but the actual good news of Jesus coming to save sinners like you and I. So, over the next four weeks, we will be looking at men and women who encounter Jesus when the fullness of time came, and the son of God was born of a woman and dwelt among men. How did they respond? What did they say? What can we learn from these responses about our reaction to the incarnation?
Following the introduction from Luke the physician he enters right into the story about two boys who are about to be born. He begins with John the Baptist. John’s father Zechariah, (who we will see in a few weeks) is told of the promise of the birth of his son to his wife Elizabeth. Now we find out about Zechariah and Elizabeth, “And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.” (Luke 1:6–7) we find out that they are both godly people. They were righteous before God walking blamelessly. Now, this is an example of faith. The second thing is that Elizabeth was barren and both of them were advanced in years. Now before we see the important connection Luke is making, I briefly want to show a biblical truth in this passage. You have heard two godly people, not under their confession but from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and they are unable to conceive because Elizabeth is barren. Sadly, some people who are unable to conceive believe it is because of past sins or do not have a lot of faith. However, we see here you can be living a godly life and not be able to conceive.
But in this Luke is making a connection to Zechariah and Elizabeth, that goes deeper than merely a description. Luke is reminding us about Abraham and Sarah. Two older godly people were unable to conceive because the wife was barren. We are told that Abraham walked blamelessly before the Lord, keeping the commandments of God (Gen 17:1-2, 26:1-5). When Zechariah was serving in the temple, burning incense, he saw an angel. He gave him a simple message, “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.” (Luke 1:13) following this the angle tells us about John the Baptist, we do not have the time to be able to unpack this prophecy about John the Baptist at this point. Zechariah has a question, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” (Luke 1:18). Again, we are to be reminded of the story of Abraham and Sarah,
“And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” (Genesis 17:15–18)
I believe the difference is found when the angel responds to Zechariah, we find out that as Abraham believed through faith (Gen 15:6), Zechariah did not believe (Luke 1:20). Elizabeth does conceive and is pregnant with little baby John. Luke then speaks of Gabriel visiting another young lady named Mary, we will look at this story more next week. These two stories overlap, Elizabeth becomes the example for Mary when she asked the question how can I be pregnant for I am a virgin (Luke 1:34) Gabriel’s response is, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:35–37) We find out that after this exciting news for Mary she has one response, to go into the hill country to a town in Judah (most likely Hebron) and tell Elizabeth about the good news that she had received from Gabriel. Mary walks into her cousin’s house and greets them. We find the response from Elizabeth and even the baby within her womb, Baby John the Baptist. Gabriel had told Zechariah that John the Baptist would be “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” (Luke 1:15). Also this could be a reference that “the older will serve the younger” (Gen 25:22-23).
Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit, as well, and once she greets her cousin, she beings to pronounce this blessing upon Mary and the messiah to which she would give birth. Now We must be able to repeat what the Bible tells us. Mary is blessed. God in his plan and providence chose her to be the one to carry and give birth to God the Son in his incarnation. Elizabeth beings by saying, “Blessed are you among women.” This is no nice greeting that is required by society but as Elizabeth filled with the Holy Spirit speaks, she speaks these words, and as Luke records the gospel account records these words as well. Mary is blessed, as we will see next week, she is a humble faith-filled woman who loves and serves God. However, in all this the church, mainly the Catholic Church has then venerated her higher than the Bible explains, she is not only blessed among women but the most blessed. Jael would then be also one of the most blessed (Judge 5:24). In their teaching she becomes like God. Mary is blessed because God used her to bring about the fulfillment that he had spoken to Eve. The snake crusher would be from the offspring of the woman. He would come and crush the head of the serpent as the serpent only struck his heel.
Blessing of the fruit of the womb
Elizabeth’s second blessing is that “blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Now, we hear this blessing and think what a nice thing to write on the baby shower card. However, we need to understand phrases like this have a history. This phrase comes from Deuteronomy chapter 28. This section in Deuteronomy is as the People of God are about to enter into the promised land (Dt 27:1-3) and the tribes are divided into two 6 tribes stand on Mount Gerizim (Mount of Blessing) and the other six stand on Mount Ebal (Mount of Blessing). Chapter 28 speaks of blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience.
“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth… Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock.” (Deuteronomy 28:1, 4)
One interesting thing that helps us when we know that this is connected to Deuteronomy 28, we see this blessing is not only a blessing about Mary, but it speaks of the promises of God and the nation of Israel. This section of Deuteronomy continues through the following chapters, at the beginning of chapter 30 Moses explains that blessings and curses will come upon you. That God knows that they will not be obedient. The cycle of blessings and curses is evident throughout all of Israel’s history. However, now the obedient one is here, who is perfectly obedient. The famous verse Paul explains in Philippians 2:8, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” We often focus on humbling himself, but here Christ humbles himself by becoming obedient. The blessings are given through obedience, the focus can be on Mary, even Elizabeth, but I think the focus is on Christ.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow
When we start to focus on Mary and Elizabeth, we miss the point. Again, Jesus is the reason for the season. Elizabeth’s response is to praise God. One commentator points out, “Elizabeth does not wish or offer a blessing, but recognizes blessedness.” Notice how Elizabeth sees that God is the one to be praised, her worship is shaped by three things: 1) Proclamation, 2) Humility, and 3) Faith.
- Proclamation; once filled with the holy spirit she lets out a loud cry. The good news of Christ’s incarnation needs to be proclaimed. One of the children’s favorite songs is Go tell it on the Mountain, “That Jesus Christ is born.” Use this chance to be able to share the goodness of the gospel with those who might never have heard the good news. Christians know this reality, this is why we have Christmas carols, have you ever noticed Christmas Carols are often just hymns? The response to hearing of Christ’s humiliation is praise.
- Humility; also notice how Elizabeth, who is bearing John the Baptist understands that it is Christ who should be exalted. She asks a question, “why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” the focus is on Christ, most likely a reference to Psalm 110:1. Here what a great question to ask as we celebrate the incarnation. Why would Jesus come? And come for us? How often do we think the opposite? We think of ourselves and not others. The incarnation should drive us to humility, again Paul exhorts the church in Philippi, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:3–7)
- Lastly, the incarnation should lead us to faith. Elizabeth ends by saying, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” The focus again is on God, that blessed is Mary because Mary had faith in the promises of God. God would fulfill the promises that he had made. That promise, speaks of Christ’s coming and his eternal kingdom. “And behold, 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)
Let us not get distracted by the temporal things that come and go but set our minds and hearts upon the eternal things. Let us praise God from whom all blessing flow. Let us proclaim the coming of Christ and the salvation that he brings to his people. Let us not focus on ourselves this season, but on Christ and how we might be a light for those around us. How we might follow Christ’s example and serve in humility. Lastly, let us have faith in Christ that he is our yes and amen to all of God’s promises. That his kingdom is forever, that he reigns supreme.