Rorate Coeli – Fourth Sunday in Advent
“Leaping for Joy”
Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus
St. Luke 1.39-56
18 December 2022
Soli Deo Gloria!
The announcement of celebrations is exciting. Think of the young couple announcing their engagement, or announcing a marriage, or husband and wife announcing their first pregnancy, first-time parents or grandparents telling family and friends the great news that a baby is going to be born. These are times of celebration.
In a way, we can look at Mary’s visit to Elizabeth as “the beginning of the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Six months before the angel Gabriel announced to Mary the miraculous conception of Jesus, he also appeared to Zechariah to tell him that his wife Elizabeth would bear a son in her old age and that this son was to be the messenger who would prepare the way for the Messiah. And so, when Mary went to visit Elizabeth to help her in the last days of her pregnancy, there was celebration between these two women. Luke tells us that when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, “the baby leaped in her womb.” Not only that, but Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and uttered words of awe, joy, and praise. She identifies Mary’s baby as “my Lord.” Only God the Holy Spirit could tell her that! The presence of God in the flesh was before her, but yet unborn.
This encounter speaks powerfully to the sanctity of human life in the womb from conception onward. Elizabeth was six months pregnant and her yet unborn son responds to the presence of the even younger baby Jesus. Disregard for human life from conception on is not God-pleasing. There are some abortion advocates who have blasphemed God by saying things that should never be uttered. Indeed, both Elizabeth in her old age and Mary in her unmarried condition would be urged to abort their babies! But God’s will would be done because both these women were women of great faith in what God was accomplishing in them.
Mary accepted the will of God for her life. If she had ambitions, we don’t know what they were, but whatever they might have been Mary put aside so that God could work his will in her. Luther remarked that the miracle of the virgin conception and birth is not really so hard for God; the real miracle is that Mary believed it. This is how God wanted it and would do it. Mary acquiesced in a manner not seen even by the prophets who often objected to their vocations.
“And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38, ESV).
Really, it’s stronger than “servant.” It’s “bond slave,” one who is completely submissive to the will of one greater. Mary submits to God’s will so that the Christ will be born.
Mary’s words are repeated every day somewhere in the Christian Church, these words of the canticle known as The Magnificat, from the first word of the Latin text which means “to make or declare great.” Mary spoke a mighty, joyous hymn of praise to God for what he was doing through the two women. The kingdom of God was about to be born! John leaped for joy in his mother’s womb when the unborn Messiah entered the room.
First, Mary celebrates the fact that God was working in and through her. But strangely, wonderfully, the greater begins to serve the lesser. Mary came to Elizabeth, not to be served by her, but to serve her in her time of need. This kind of humility is the rarest of all jewels, remarks Luther. Instead of strutting about and acting arrogantly, Mary washes John’s dirty diapers, bathes him, takes care of him, waits on Elizabeth. She is the personification of humility, something in short supply these days.
What a wonderful picture of everything that God was doing! In six days we will celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. The celebration will be joyous and elegant, as it should be, but we should keep in mind that Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Mary and Elizabeth were celebrating the redemption which was to come some 33 years later. It’s really the Gospel before the Gospel is born. It’s really what the Church does throughout the liturgical year. We celebrate our Lord’s conception, birth, life, suffering, death, resurrection, and return on the Last Day before they happen. Mary and Elizabeth were celebrating something that was sure to happen because God himself had promised it.
Mary spoke of God’s mercy being for those who fear him. Indeed, God’s mercy comes to those who are humble in heart. The proud and arrogant God brings down from their thrones. God has never been impressed with worldly pomp and power. Instead, God exalts those of low estate, he fills the hungry with good things, he sends the rich away empty. God has kept all his merciful promises in this birth. All of that Mary could see, and for all of that Mary praised God in her song.
So we leap for joy because the powers that kept the world in slavery would soon be overthrown. God’s champion was coming into the world, not in a blaze of glory, but in humility and weakness. God would deal with sin, Satan, and death through this child born of Mary. He would accomplish the redemption of the world! Scarcely can we fathom the deep longing of those on that side of the birth of the Christ. Waiting long centuries the anticipation had often reached a fevered pitch. Many had desired the coming of this Savior, and now it was happening.
Jesus’ birth is certainly cause to leap for joy. When a child is born we celebrate that a child has come into the world. We look into that tiny face and wonder what potential lies there. What will this child become? Every parent has dreams for a child even a few days old. Maybe she will follow in her mother or father’s footsteps, becoming an engineer, a skilled tradesman, a teacher, or a mother who cares for her children as of first importance. Maybe he or she will do something great and become famous. Parents always hope that their children would rise higher in the world than they have, but it would be better if they hoped that their children would be more like Mary, a humble servant of Christ. The blessings of God rest more on the humble than the mighty whom God pulls down from their thrones!
Mary knew what her child would become! She knew that he would usher in God’s kingdom through his life, suffering, and death. While Mary does not see yet all the details, especially of Jesus’ suffering and death, she knows that God is accomplishing his purposes. And because of that, she must celebrate with Elizabeth. They must celebrate together the fact that God was doing the great things he promised through the prophets. It is just the beginning but it is the dawning of his promised kingdom, a reason to leap for joy!
We who stand on this side of the Nativity of Our Lord know that all has been accomplished for our salvation. Jesus has not only ushered in his kingdom, he has redeemed the world by his life, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension, and procession to the right hand of the Father. Only one more thing remains: his return in glory to bring about the consummation of his eternal kingdom.
And so we celebrate even in dark days amidst the world’s persecution. The Divine Service is always a celebration because we receive the Incarnate Christ into our ears and into our mouths. He has come to be Immanuel, God-with-us. As we gather for the Divine Services Christmas Eve and Christmas Day we cannot help leaping for joy and breaking out in celebration! It is our Lord’s nativity! It is the beginning of the sweet, sweet story of our redemption! And we are rehearsing for the greater celebration to come when our Lord Jesus returns on the Last Day to take us to his nearer presence forever!
So Mary teaches us how to celebrate! May humility be preached, but above all, may God’s grace and mercy in saving those with nothing to offer God be proclaimed! Mary gives us the joyful words to sing,
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit.