The Visitation

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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

She who was greeted by the angel now greets her relative Elizabeth. And that greeting goes into Elizabeth’s ears and, apparently, into the infant John’s ears, as well. Three months from his birthday, John leaps around for joy when he hears Mary’s voice. And that’s not just a mother giving some sentimental meaning to the movement of her child in the womb: Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit so her words must be truth. Her words are as sure as Peter and the other Apostles who are filled with the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts. The Holy Spirit always speaks words that point to the Word made flesh. Blessed indeed is Mary. It is fitting to speak highly of her as the Mother of God in the flesh. But only because the fruit of her womb is blessed. This will not be the only time that what happens to Mary is tied to what happens to her Son. Forty days after His birth, Mary and Joseph bring Him to the Temple to offer the sacrifice for her purification under the law, and a man named Simeon meets them there: “And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed’” (Luke 2:34-35). Which is a strange sort of blessing, and really doesn’t sound like the sort of blessing we would like to have. A sword will pierce my own soul also? Maybe I’ll take a pass on that “blessing.”

But there it is. When Paul was chosen by God to preach His word to the Gentiles, God said to Ananias: “I will show him how much he must suffer for My Name.” Mary is chosen by God to bear His word into the world, and God says through Simeon, “A sword will go through your soul.” Just as Jesus will be divisive (12:49-53), Mary herself will be divided. At times she is the picture of wisdom and understanding about whom her Son is; at other times she seems to be impatient with her Son and uncertain. Finally, in the Book of Acts, Mary finds her place among the disciples of Jesus (1:14). As with all the disciples, at least from a human point of view, that outcome was not certain. But after the resurrection she, too, is a blessed one, through her Son, the Blessed One. Why? Because she believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord. Once again, a description of faith. First, Mary’s own words: let it be to me as you have spoken. Now, from Elizabeth: blessed is she who believed that there will be a fulfillment, a completion, of what has been spoken to her from the Lord. Like her ancestor Abraham, she is blessed because she believes the promise of God. She believed God and He counted it to her as righteousness. And as we will hear in her own words, so Jesus Himself says in Luke’s Beatitudes: God has reversed the entire economy of success in this world: in the economy of God’s salvation, blessed are the poor, blessed are the weeping, blessed are those who are hated and excluded and called evil because of the Son of Mary. They will inherit the entire Reign of God; they will be satisfied; they will laugh. They will do as the unborn John does: leap for joy and rejoice, because God’s reward is being kept for His blessed ones in heaven (6:20-23).

From a human point of view, your salvation and my salvation are not certain. Look in your heart; consider the words you spoke in anger and impatience—unfortunately, I know mine too well; see how hard you try to do the right thing and it all goes to hell. No, from what we can see, the outcome of our salvation is very far from certain. But not so for the God who looks and considers and sees you in His Son, born of Mary. The certainty is entirely in Christ. Who are we that our Lord should come to us? Even so, blessed is the one who believes, who says “amen,” to what the Lord has said. His Words will have their fulfillment, even for you.

The blessing of the sword that Jesus brings is that He still gathers the baptized and divides them from the multitude of unbelievers to keep them safe in the ark of His holy Church. It is the sword that Nathan promised would never depart from David’s house, and it is fulfilled when death falls on Jesus, born of Mary, and of the house and line of David. The cross is the sword of God’s wrath struck deep into the ground of Calvary, and only the eternal Son in flesh can bear that sword to its bitter end. Because His Father would not let His Holy One see decay in the ground. And now Mary and Elizabeth and John and you and I get to share in the blessing of the resurrection, because we have shared in the sword of His death. Blessed indeed is Mary! Blessed and glorious is the fruit of her womb, Jesus! Blessed are you who believe that there will be a fulfillment of everything God has said in Christ! Rejoice! In the resurrection, you will come out of your graves, leaping like newborn calves, blessed and happy to be alive in the new light of the Son!

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 12/9/14

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