Fourth Sunday in Advent

by Crossings

Luke 1:39-45 [46-55]
(Fourth Sunday in Advent)
Analysis by Al Jabs

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

[And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed:
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his
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 powerful from their thrones, and lifted up
the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”]

DIAGNOSIS: Without a song

Step 1–Initial Diagnosis: Lowliness
Two women are getting together. What is happening? Is it gossip? Old Wives tales? What’s up? Big doings, sho nuff! You see, Elizabeth was a very old woman. Some might say that she, like her husband Zechariah, was over the hill. Yet here she is with a baby about to be born. This is why she (or is it Mary? or perhaps both?) breaks out into song (vs. 46-55). Yet there is something revealing in that song. There is the admission of “the lowliness” that has characterized her life. A few verses prior to this text, the word “barren” is used as Elizabeth’s description (v. 36). Perhaps the barrenness of Elizabeth can be compared with the barrenness of our current lifestyle where violence, emptiness, and depression abound. We live in an age where our vision, in many instances, has failed; and with unsustained vision we fall into the depths. Elizabeth, and Mary, knew all too well about the depths of lowliness.

Step 2–Advanced Diagnosis: Unworthiness
There is a stinging message that comes from the depths of lowliness. It is a message that we may in fact be unworthy people. That message has become so ingrained that we become puzzled by any token of favor. So Elizabeth queries, “why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” (v. 43) The problem here is not simply psychological–as if there is only now a sense of unworthiness that derives from the prior experiences of lowliness. The problem is deeply spiritual, because we come to believe that we are unworthy. And that spiritual illness is more difficult to overcome than the physical or psychological experiences of lowliness. A change of events or a change of scenery might take away the experience of lowliness for a while. But even having a child after years of barrenness does not eradicate for Elizabeth the deathly guilt that she is still unworthy.

Step 3–Final Diagnosis: Reproached
The most dramatic consequence to consider is how much God has played a critical role in all of this. If God is in fact the God who “scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts” and the God who brings “down the powerful from their thrones,” there can be a sense in which one might want to exalt that some day (perhaps soon) they (that is, the proud, the powerful) will get their due. But what if “they” are us? What if our own pride and abuse of power, our living as arrogant big shots, have left us in now our state of spiraling down, such that we are among those now being humbled–by God? What if all the atrocities that have been experienced throughout history, including our recent history of discrimination, massacres, ethnic cleansing, and injustice against the innocent–what if all these and all our later experiences (or divine threats!) of lowliness are related? Might, then, all our lowliness and unworthiness be evidence of something more serious–reproach from God? That thought did cross Elizabeth’s mind. Probably Mary’s too. Now ours as well.

PROGNOSIS: Something (Someone) to sing about!

Step 4–Initial Prognosis: Regarded
But the story continues. When these two women meet, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb bounces. As Elizabeth defers to the younger Mary, so John keeps the Christ before himself. The course of a new age has begun. A revision of history has occurred. The revision is one of being regarded, being favored. Elizabeth can sing with Mary that “the Mighty One has done great things for me.” The Mighty One is this Child in the womb of Mary that will turn over not only the course of history, but more importantly the reproach of God. Now all those of lowly are to be lifted up. Now Israel is remembered in mercy forever. Now the strength of this One will overcome the world, and bring favor to all who have suffered reproach, by himself suffering it on our behalf. That song of celebration has crossed the lips of Elizabeth and Mary. Now ours as well.

Step 5–Advanced Prognosis: Blessed
With the stain of reproach removed, there is a new message for ourselves and for one another. Three times Elizabeth uses the word “blessed” to describe Mary. But Elizabeth’s word of blessing is also for herself as well: “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Faith brings blessing. Trusting the Mighty One makes us a people who are beyond reproach and worthy of favor. That is bound to change one’s self-image for the better–and make one whole.

Step 6–Final Prognosis: Rejoicing, with much abound
Is there any wonder, then, that babies are leaping and women are exclaiming praise and singing songs of joy? Mary can’t wait to get to Elizabeth. Elizabeth can’t hold back the loud cries of veneration. And why should they? A baby is about to be born, in lowliness himself to be sure; but for all the lowly in all the world there is no need for sadness, no ultimate place for barren lifestyle. Things are going to change for the better. Peace will triumph over oppression, repression, and depression. Lifted up spirits will find room for magnifying the Lord in the world and for the world). Indeed, big doings, sho nuff!


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