The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
If I were to say that much of our problems in our culture today stem from a lack of understanding of God’s Word, would you agree? I know we could go one step further and say that many of these same problems are a result of people not even knowing what God’s Word says, let alone failing to rightly understand it. I don’t disagree with that, but let’s just focus on the lack of understanding part for today. We’re here, and the Word is right before us. “What does this mean?”
Maybe a better place to start is by talking about “what does this NOT mean.” Let’s just get the foolishness out of the way right off the bat so we can get down to more “meatier” and pressing issues. Many Christians, particularly those of the Roman Catholic persuasion, point to these verses and say, “See! I told you so!” “Hail Mary, full of grace, blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus Christ. Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.” “See! It’s right there!” No, it’s not. The first part—“Hail Mary, full of grace”—is a paraphrase of the angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary when he told her that she was going to be the mother of her Lord. Here’s the thing: Xairo—“Hail”—isn’t a prayer. It’s a greeting. “Peace to you! Glad tidings to you!” The angel wasn’t praying to Mary, nor was Elizabeth praying to Mary, which means that we don’t pray to Mary. Pretty simple, right? “Full of grace”? Mary didn’t possess her own inherent grace, as if she were holy and without sin and able to dispense her grace upon sinner too. Mary was no different than you or I: a sinner who needed God’s grace every bit as much as you or I. Mary was no different than you or I, filled with God’s grace through faith.
As for the middle part—“Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb”—that’s right here in our text for today. You shouldn’t have any issue with this. It’s absolutely true. She is blessed among all women. She was chosen to be the mother of God! It doesn’t get any more blessed than that! I think of Bonita Favre (mother of Brett) or Elizabeth Staubach (mother of Roger). You’ve probably never even heard of these women, but these two women were blessed to be the moms of two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. But… neither of these women gave birth to two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game because they themselves were blessed with awesomeness at football and therefore worthy of such greatness. Nope. They were blessed—by God—to be the moms. It’s that simple. Mary was blessed by God to be the mother of God-made-flesh. God chose her, not because she was so awesome and deserving of such an honor. Nope. God chose her purely out of His amazing grace. In fact, if you simply listen to all that Mary says in this text, she makes it very clear that God is the reason for all her blessedness. God is the font and source and reason for all blessedness, from generation to generation, to the end of the age. Even a cursory glance at these words makes clear that Mary recognizes the fact that she has NOTHING to bring to the table in terms of salvation or mercy or grace. All the mighty things of God belong to God. All the great reversals brought about for the purpose of our salvation are solely because of God and His undeserved gifts of mercy and grace. Yes… Mary is truly blessed, and it’s purely because of God’s good grace. She understands this, which is why her soul magnifies, not herself, but the Lord. Her spirit rejoices in Him and Him alone.
Now… that last part—“pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death”—that’s nowhere in Scripture. That is something drummed up by a Jesuit priest in 1555 at the Council of Trent (which was convened to figure out how to combat those wretched Lutherans who were rejecting the worship of saints and proclaiming faith alone in God’s grace alone because of Christ alone). Hmm… that should tell you something! Folks: We don’t need Mary to intercede for us. We don’t need mom to step in and mediate for us, as if Jesus really wants to drop the hammer on us, but mom will put in a good word for us. “When you pray, pray thusly: Our Father, who art in heaven….” Simple enough, right? Besides, if Mary could see/hear all the misery going on with us sinners in this fallen and sinful world, then we’d have to say that Mary isn’t in Paradise. As it is, Mary, with all the saints of the Church Triumphant, is gathered around the throne, praising her Lord and Savior. It’s that simple. Moving on.
We need to address the reality that infants can and do have faith. Just think of all the wicked foolishness that has resulted because people either don’t know/understand that infants can believe, or they refuse to believe that infants can believe. But… before we get there, we need to talk about the Church. What is the purpose of “Church”? The answer is actually quite simple, although so many simply don’t know it, don’t understand it, or refuse to believe it. “Church” is the assembly of believers. This is where we faithful assemble—in the house of the Lord—in order to receive His gifts of grace and peace from Him, who brings heaven to earth to dwell in our midst. The Church is given her marching orders to “make disciples of all nations” by baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching all these nations—EVERYONE—“to obey all that I have commanded.” The Church’s purpose is not to entertain. The Church does not exist to be a tax deduction or free therapy or a country club or a place that helps you with paying the bills and giving you free canned goods. Nope. The Church exists to give you Christ and His means of grace—His Word and His sacraments. When the Church speaks, it is the voice and Word of Christ in her midst that we should hear. The Church doesn’t offer up her own opinions on things. The Church proclaims Christ and Him crucified, a stumbling block to some and foolishness to others, but to those of us who are called, it is the power and wisdom of God. “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe.” This is the function and purpose of Church. If this isn’t what the Church is all about, then the Church is all about the wrong things.
Look to your text. When did that precious little gift of life in Elizabeth’s womb leap for joy? Answer: When he heard the greeting of Mary; when he heard the xairo from Mary. Faith comes through hearing; hearing the Word of Christ. When the xairo—the word of peace and joy—that came from within Mary was proclaimed, it sounded into the tiny little soul of that precious life in utero, and that precious little life responded by leaping for joy. Already in the womb, John was fulfilling God’s Word and Will by pointing others to the Messiah (who wasn’t just a lump of lifeless cells in Mary’s womb)! It’s sad that we even have to make such a statement! It’s so incredibly distressing that we have to address the fact that both John and Jesus were very much alive in their mothers’ wombs, precious gifts of life from God above. It’s horrendous when you think about it, but even many self-proclaimed “good Christians” condone (and even legislate for) abortion because “it’s not a live baby until after birth. Until then, it’s just a clump of cells.” Clearly, the Word of God disagrees with such wickedness! Worse yet, Christians condone such wickedness with their vote! Lord, have mercy!
What about the fact that this precious little gift of life is able to believe and rejoice?! How many Christians reject the notion that children (especially little infants) can/do have saving faith? How many precious little gifts of life are kept from the redemptive waters of Holy Baptism because people think they know more than God? So many like to argue that babies can’t believe, and I’m supposed to prove to them that babies can believe. I point to these words of Scripture and say, “Prove to me that they can’t believe.” The onus is on them to prove God wrong. I don’t have to prove what the Holy Spirit already makes abundantly clear throughout Scripture. Baby John, even in utero, leaps for joy in faith when he hears the word of peace coming forth from the place where the Lord of Life Himself dwells.
I can tell you from first-hand experience that this very text gives great comfort and peace to those who’ve suffered the loss of a baby due to miscarriage. Every time mom heard the Word of the Gospel; every time mom came to the altar and received the very body and blood of her Lord and Savior, that precious little life in her womb was also hearing and receiving these gifts of life and grace. We grieve the loss of life—all life; even the littlest of life—but we don’t grieve like those who have no hope. That little one in utero died in the faith; a purer faith than any of us who’ve been jaded by this fallen and sinful world possess.
In terms of a comfort/peace that surpasses all understanding, I think of the end of the book of Job. God restored double of all that had been taken from Job in his sufferings. He started off with “X” amount of livestock and servants and riches, and when God restores these gifts, He gives to him double… EXCEPT for the gift of children. Job had seven sons and three daughters, all of whom were taken from him in death. At the end, God doesn’t restore unto him 14 sons and 6 daughters, but instead blesses him with seven son and three daughters. Why? Because he already has seven sons and three daughters in heaven! In eternity Job has been doubly-blessed! He has 14 sons and 6 daughters with him in heaven, purely by God’s good grace. This is how I find/teach comfort when it comes to the grievous loss that is miscarriage. Made alive in Christ by means of His life-giving Word and Sacrament, that precious little child is already gathered around the throne of God. In terms of my own life, I have two beautiful daughters here and now, and I know that I already have two children in heaven awaiting my arrival! How doubly-blessed I am!
Back to our discussion on the Church and Her God-given mission to proclaim Christ. Here in the person of humble Mary we see a picture of the Church. Like Mary, the Church is still called blessed—blessed by God—because she—the Church—is still the tabernacle—the dwelling place of Christ Almighty. I know we don’t look like much by worldly standards, but this is where Immanuel becomes reality—God dwells with us—each and every time two or three are gathered in Christ’s name around His Word and Sacrament; not because of our merit or worthiness, but in spite of us and our sin; because of us and our sin and our faith in Him alone as the sole source of forgiveness, deliverance, and redemption. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the Words of eternal life.” The words that are faithfully proclaimed from the mouth of the Church—the mouth of the place where Christ Jesus is at the center, still adventing with us in His life-giving Word and Sacraments—still bring life and joy and salvation to lowly “nobody” sinners dwelling in this fallen and sinful world. “Those who hear you hear Me.” Those dead in their sin still arise and leap for joy upon hearing Christ’s life-giving Word of the Gospel as it is faithfully proclaimed, taught, and confessed by His humble maidservant, the Church. This is the function and purpose of Church. If this isn’t what the Church is all about, then the Church is all about the wrong things.
I think we’ve said enough for today. As we close out this Advent season now and prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, I hope and pray that in these few minutes of time we’ve been able to give you a better understanding of what this interaction between Mary and Elizabeth and John and Jesus means for you and for the mission of the Church. The joyous proclamation of Elizabeth still rings out to us today! Like Mary, we—the Church—are still blessed by God. We are still called bless-ed, not because of anything we bring to the table, but purely because of Christ Jesus—the blessed Son of God—in our midst. Equipped with this Good News, now go forth and be bold with your joyous proclamations! Go forth and be bold and point to Christ in our midst for our salvation and our peace. Rejoice, for Christ dwells in you! And now may this same blessed peace of Jesus Christ, which surpasses all human understanding, guard and keep your hearts and minds in Him.
Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people. It is NOT necessary to ask my permission for any of it! In fact, you don't have to mention me at all. (I think it's highly problematic when pastors seek credit/glory for sermons inspired by the Holy Spirit!) Give praise to God for the fact that He continues to provide for His people.
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