Elizabeth : “Blessed are you”
Foreword: the Story… or stories!!!
Mary had her story of an encounter with the angel Gabriel. And Gabriel had already told Mary about Elizabeth’s miracle. (v. 36) And it was to Elizabeth and Zechariah that Mary went with her immensely challenging story of angels miracles and Messiah.
And Elizabeth had a back story… Sixty or seventy years old. Childless, then miraculously pregnant after the angel Gabriel had visited her husband in the Temple… So this elderly lady was already heavily pregnant.
Mary greets Elizabeth. “Greeting” was a lengthy and formal thing where what really mattered was the message that the visitor brought. Gabriel’s greeting to Mary was “Hi, favoured one chosen by God. God is going to be with you”! Mary’s greeting to Elizabeth was therefore likely to be something like this: “Hi Elizabeth. I have news. I have been chosen by God to bear God’s son who will be the Messiah.” That is quite a mouthful for a thirteen year old girl to blurt out as soon as she walks in the door! How on earth is Elizabeth to respond to this? Does what she has experienced enable her to have faith? If that faith faltered for a moment, something else happened…
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, her baby leaped in the womb. Not an ordinary fetal movement. The intention is NOT to say that by coincidence the baby moved (that would be a sign in itself) or even that the baby responded to his mother’s intense emotion, but that the baby himself felt joy in his spirit that he expressed in the only way he could.
Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit activity is a significant feature in Lukes Gospel and on particular in the birth narrative. And she shouted out something: shouting loudly was a mark of inspired utterance and public praise.
A skilled story-teller, or historian like Luke, tells his story with a sense of purpose… It’s annoying when a story is put into a biography for no particular reason, or perhaps just because it is a funny story. The narratives of John and Jesus, of Mary and Elizabeth are clearly parallel. The same angel is involved in both. Both are about miraculous births which herald the in-breaking of God’s wonderful kingdom. They could be parallel but independent; kind of co-incidences. But this episode binds them both together. They are not independent stories; they are part of one story. Or, to put it more sharply, despite her miracle, despite her joy to become a mother, to bear a child in her old age… despite all of that, what is most important to Elizabeth at this point in time, is this: “Why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (v. 43). It is Jesus. It is her Lord, that matters. Her story is bound up with the Story of God, the story of Messiah coming into the world, the story of the coming triumph of God’s Kingdom.
And so, out of the joy of having her story joined to the story of God, the story of Messiah, she shouts at the top of her voice, this amazing blessing. It’s not quite a song: it’s not poetry but “high prose”: memorable like Churchill’s wartime broadcasts or Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech.
Hearing her elderly cousin speak, bless, prophesy in this way may have startled Mary, but this Blessing is just what Mary needs at this point in time…
‘Blessed are you among women.” Blessed is “eulogemenos”, which literally means well spoken of. To “bless” someone is to speak well of them or to speak good things into their life. She needed that. How would the women and men in her own neighbourhood speak about the young girl who got pregnant before she was married? How would Joseph speak about her (before God spoke to him?) Her parents? Her friends? What would people speak into her life? But this lovely old lady says “Blessed are you among women!”
What a healing for Mary, what an inoculation against the poison that would be thrown at her. She’s believed. She’s valued. She’s well spoken of. She has good spoken into her life. Isn’t it good to bless other people?
“ …and blessed is the child you will bear!” That is kind of obvious, though Mary’s firstborn would be spoken of badly too, at times. But He is blessed. He is the one supremely for whom we give thanks to God. Thank God for Jesus. And it is because of Jesus that Mary is blessed. Not because she is anything special. She is just an ordinary teenage girl, who happens to have listened up in the Synagogue, knows the Scriptures (by hearing not reading!) and is able to believe what God says to her, and pay the price. Elizabeth finishes off her speech with Blessed (this time the word is “makarios” happy, enriched or enlarged) is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil his promises to her!’
And listen, it is because of Jesus that you and I are blessed as well. And it is because of Jesus, that the blessing can spread, like runny honey, across the surface of our community, to touch the people we touch just as the blessing leached out and touched Elizabeth, then Mary….
And Mary sings : that’s the song that Dawn will be exploring next week. But I just want to finish with this. How good to be able, like Elizabeth, to bless someone, in such a way that they in turn can sing. In such a way as to call the song from their heart. Maybe we can’t sing a song. But maybe we can bless someone who can and will.
When our story is joined with the story of Jesus, the Spirit comes. The anointing flows. God shows his power. We can all be blessed because of Jesus: because of who He is. We can all speak out to glorify and praise Him. And we can all speak blessing into the lives of other people.