Traveling Advent to Epiphany: Roadside Assistance from Luke and Matthew
A Meditation on the Gospel for Advent 4: Luke 1:39-55
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? –Luke 1:41-43
Elizabeth’s baby, leaping in utero at Mary’s hello, must be born. There is nothing else for the infant to do but develop and soon leave the womb for the world.
And why, cries his pregnant mother, astonished at the sight of radiant Mary, has this happened to me?
Before Mary can offer her magnificent reply, a note of incredulous sorrow—an unanswerable why asked in a minor key—seems to haunt Elizabeth’s joyful question.
To mothers and fathers in anguish anywhere this day, no explanation will ever suffice to answer the question, why has this happened? All that those who weep and mourn may eventually manage to do is emulate Elizabeth. She receives and blesses another pregnant woman, placing her faith in that mother’s coming child.
We know what Elizabeth could not know the day Mary arrived at her door. Elizabeth’s son John will grow up to prepare for the Lord’s coming. John will implore us to turn around and face the only One capable of saving us. John’s appalling martyrdom, couched in political debauchery and cowardice, will demonstrate his culture’s brutalities. These often involve more intimate manipulations than the random public massacres for which our own times will be remembered.
Had Elizabeth been able to predict her child’s prophetic career and grotesque execution, would she have proclaimed of her pregnancy (as she does in Luke 1:25) that God “looked favorably on me”? Would Mary have seen herself as even more deeply favored than Elizabeth, had Gabriel’s annunciation to her also foretold Jesus’ unjust, grisly death?
Like Mary’s response to Gabriel, the answer to these questions must be yes. Yes. To people who seek sanity and sanctity, who affirm God’s love to be stronger than death, both the living and the giving of life are absolutely worth the attendant, inevitable grief. To birth a baby in a world still waiting for redemption is an act of death-defying faith. To peaceably raise up a child in a society yet unwilling to prevent its demoniacs from stockpiling firearms is to say a radical and daily no to evil and its ways.
And yes, the gospel of Jesus Christ is holy revelation with a clear moral message for present-day policy makers and citizens. Mary’s Magnificat is not some quaint aria. It is Jesus’ expectant mother’s poetic credo. She claims her blessed relevance to our generation as much as to her own. Today, the fear of the Lord still has its purposes for people in deep need of mercy. The proud and the powerful of our day, and those who are merely munitioned and deranged, will meet the Mighty One whose strength will scatter our despair and bring down our arms for good.
Like Elizabeth, Holy Spirit-filled and loudly exclaiming, may we find ample reason to rejoice, even in our late years. May we, like Elizabeth welcoming Mary, meet a believer, a bearer of salvation whose mere greeting makes our insides leap. May God our Savior place good things—tender infants, for instance—in our emptied hands. May we, a people once brought low by human depravity, be lifted up by a Helper whose ways are not our ways, whose promises to our ancestors remain good and true these many generations later.