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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
Title:With the Miraculous Pregnancies of Two Women, the Lord God Makes the Transition from the Old to the New.
Text:Luke 1: 39-45 (View)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Sing: Psalm 96: 1, 2, 7, 8

Sing: Psalm 89: 12, 13, 14

Read: Luke 1: 26-38

Sing: Psalm 128: 1, 2, 3

Text: Luke 1: 39-45

Sing: Psalm 115: 6, 7

Sing: Psalm 146: 1, 4, 5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters,


Women, especially in the past, are not always taken seriously. They are seen as the weaker sex. They are portrayed as being more emotional and less rational than men. The world thinks that men are the ones who make things happen. They are the ones who are in the driver’s seat. They are the ones who create and destroy kingdoms and dynasties. They are the main players in wars and in the affairs of the world. That is the case even in this day and age of the women’s liberation movement.


It is remarkable, however, that with regard to one of the most important events in the history of the world, women play a most pivotal role. In the section under consideration this morning, the men are hardly in the picture. Throughout this whole narrative of the birth of the Saviour of the world, the men are in the background. They are hidden somewhere behind the scenes. They are on the sidelines, reduced to spectators.


It is quite striking how Luke skillfully blends together the remarkable stories of these two women: the story of a young teenager Mary -- whose name is actually Mariam, the same name as the sister of Moses and Aaron; and the story of Elizabeth, an ordinary housewife who is beyond childbearing years. These are devout women who, because of their circumstances, also have an incredible bond. Luke tells their stories in a beautiful, blended narrative.


He also blends together the two births: the birth of John the Baptist, and the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. The stories of these two births are intricately connected to one another. But he does not just blend together two stories of these two women and the two births, but also the two stories of the Old Testament and the New. He masterfully weaves together how the old makes way for the new. He brings us out of the Old Testament period into the New Testament period. And he shows us how blessed we are because of the role that these women, Mary and Elizabeth, played in all this. That’s what we will see in this morning’s message. The theme is as follows:

With the Miraculous Pregnancies of Two Women, the Lord God Makes the Transition from the Old to the New. We will see:

1. The unbreakable connection between two testaments, the old and the new;

2. The wonderful bond of two women, Elizabeth and Mary.


The gospel writer Luke, in a clever way, writes his New Testament account of the birth of Jesus in such a way that he brings us in close connection with the Old Testament. He does this by the style that he uses and the words that he chooses. For example, he begins the text by stating that at that time Mary got ready. In the original text he says that Mary arose in those days. Other translations such as the King James Version and the New King James Version and the Revised Standard Version also translate it in this way. As you know, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew. And this is a Hebrew – in other words an Old Testament – expression. The same thing is true of the words “in those days”. That’s how it would be written in the Hebrew as well. The language that Luke uses breathes the time of the Old Testament. And he does that purposely. That is also clear from the place name that he uses. We are told that Mary hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea. He actually uses the Old Testament name Judah. This whole passage is written in an Old Testament style. Luke did that from the very start of his gospel, and (as we will see, the Lord willing, on Christmas day) he does that throughout.


In chapter one, after his introductory words about the accuracy of his account which he dedicates to Theophilus, he tells the readers about the days of Herod and then begins his story about the coming of the Messiah within the context of Zechariah’s temple service. The story of Zechariah brings us back to the Old Testament ceremonial laws in the temple with the sacrifices and the many other symbolic practices that point ahead to what is to come.


Zechariah is going to be the father of John the Baptist. And John the Baptist will be a prophet in the style of the Old Testament prophets. John the Baptist is going to preach repentance. He wants to prepare the people for the messianic age. That was the task of all the other Old Testament prophets as well, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the 12 minor prophets. They warned the people of the coming wrath, but at the same time gave comfort and hope by prophesying of the coming messianic age. John comes in that same tradition.


Please note that when Mary comes into the presence of Elizabeth, the baby in the womb of Elizabeth – that is, John the Baptist – leaped for joy. Already in the womb, John acknowledged the Lord Jesus as the one of whom he may be the forerunner. Later John the Baptist said this in John 3:27-30, “‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.”


The gospel writer Luke in this way brings us in touch with the Old Testament. He does that time and again. In this way Luke shows that the New Testament is nothing more than the continuation of the Old. He wants to show that the Old Testament prophesies are being fulfilled right now. That Christ is the one for whom the Old Testament church has been waiting for, and who is now coming, indeed that he has now come in the womb of Mary. He wants to show that the birth of Christ has no content without the Old Testament. God is the one who is in control of history and he has led history to the point of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. And now that history of redemption has its continuation in the New Testament.


We go from the old to the new. But that does not mean that we are now done with the old. At various points in the history of redemption we read that God makes new beginnings. We sang about it as well, when we sang from Psalm 96: “O sing a new song, all creation.” The Old Testament believer sang that in anticipation of the new messianic age. That is clear from what we sang in the second stanza: “Declare His glory to the nations; make it known to all their populations His marvellous works.”


In the New Testament era the gospel of salvation has to go out to all men and to all nations. That is why the story about the birth of Christ ends with the Magi from the east. These were strangers who were allowed to share in God’s grace. All the nations will be included. The new builds on the old. It doesn’t do away with it, but it enriches it and brings us to the end of time. The old makes way for the new. That is also the way it is with Elizabeth and Mary. We come to the second point.


2. The text tells us that at that time Mary hurried to the town of Judea, or Judah as it is in the original. She is going to see Elizabeth. The angel Gabriel had just told her that her relative Elizabeth is also going to have a miraculous child, for she in her old age is already pregnant in her sixth month. Mary does not wait. Soon after her encounter with Gabriel she makes the arduous trek from Nazareth to the hill country of Judea. We are not told the name of that town, and so it is not important.


What is important is that she believes the angel that she will have a child. At this point no one else knows. Mary is a young woman and her impending pregnancy brings with it all kinds of questions and problems and uncertainties. She doesn’t know what to do at this time.


That is often the way it is with any woman who is newly pregnant. For pregnancy brings on a new situation. It brings about change in a woman; physical and hormonal changes, but also circumstantial changes. Preparations have to be made to make sure that everything is ready for the baby when it arrives. A young mother at such a time has to deal with all kinds of uncertainties and anxieties. She thinks about the future of her child. She also thinks about the impending delivery.


And so there is always some anxiety, and sometimes there is fear of the future. She does not think just about the immediate future, but thinks further: “What kind of world am I bringing this child into? Is my baby going to be safe? What kind of life can my child expect? Will I be able to look after my child in the way that I should? What will be the difficulties that he or she will be facing?”


Those are questions young mothers often have. But the questions for Mary will have been even more pressing. For she already knows that his birth is going to be surrounded by controversy. For example, her child has been conceived outside of marriage. How will she be able to deal with that? How is she going to deal with the fallout? What about the stigma?


And so, is it any wonder that Mary right away went to Elizabeth? For she could not talk to just anybody about this. What is she going to do? How will she handle it all? No one would understand. No one knew what she had been told and the secret that she had to carry with her. For no one was there when Gabriel came to her. If she told about the words of Gabriel, who would believe her?


It was not like it was with Elizabeth. The people in the temple knew that Zechariah had received a vision. That news probably travelled with him as he made his way back home to Judea. Nevertheless, we know that Elizabeth remained in hiding. Out of deference to her husband she did not talk to others about her pregnancy. He was forced into silence, and Elizabeth shared that affliction and punishment with him. She also remained silent.


But Elizabeth was exactly the right person for Mary to talk to. She too is experiencing a pregnancy. With her too it is clearly a miracle. She became pregnant in her old age. If Elizabeth had become pregnant when she was young, then the birth would hardly be noticed. It was normal for a young couple to have children. But as it is, the Lord God wants to show his power through her. So it is a miraculous pregnancy for Elizabeth as well.


It is wonderful that the Lord God led Mary on Elizabeth’s path, for Elizabeth had so much to offer. She had the wisdom and experience of old age. She had been through a lot in her life. She had experienced a lifetime of struggle over her barrenness in a culture where the only purpose in a woman’s life was to bear and rear children. If you did not bear children, then others looked down on you. All those years Elizabeth may have felt that God was punishing her. However, the Lord prepared her to be a blessing to Mary. He used her weakness to demonstrate his power.


Elizabeth was a woman of faith. No angel had to tell Elizabeth that with God everything is possible. She had already experienced God’s wonderful power. And now the Lord wants to use her to guide and comfort Mary. The Lord wants to use her to prepare the way for Mary. In that way she was like the son to whom she was to give birth, John the Baptist. For John would come to prepare the way of the Lord Jesus. And now Elizabeth is preparing the way for Mary.


Brothers and sisters, it is wonderful how the Lord has created us. He has created us in fellowship with others. He made it so that we cannot exist on our own. We belong together. We need each other. Especially when you are young you need others to help you with life’s problems. Young girls need to be able to talk to older women about their pregnancies and about their fears and worries. Oh sure, they have mothers. But that is not always the case. Some women move away from the parental homes. Others don’t have the relationship with their mother that allows them to interact in a meaningful way. That is why we need the communion of saints as well. We need to encourage one another. Older women need to encourage younger women. There needs to be interaction between young and old. For the older ones can pass on their experience. They can encourage and instruct. That needs to happen especially in the communion of saints. For it is within the communion of saints that you do not just come with practical advice, but with godly advice. When you’re older you have experienced how God deals with you through thick and thin. You have learned, or at least you should have learned, that God takes care of you in all circumstances.


Mary desperately needed Elizabeth especially for that reason. Elizabeth did not only have the experience of a lifetime, but she had faith. As we read in verse 41 she was also full of the Holy Spirit. As soon as Mary came into her home and greeted Elizabeth, the baby leaped in her womb. Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit she interpreted that as a leap of joy.


Some wonderful words came out of the mouth of Elizabeth. The words that she spoke to Mary were quite similar to the words spoken to her only a few days before. It was almost as if Elizabeth herself was there when Gabriel spoke to Mary. And in a certain way she was: through the Holy Spirit. For it was only because of the Holy Spirit that she knew what to say. She says, “Blessed are you among women.” The angel called Mary highly favoured. Elizabeth also calls the child that she will bear blessed. It is a summary of what Gabriel said as well.


But there are also differences between the words that Gabriel uses and the words that Elizabeth uses, wonderful differences. Whereas Gabriel speaks about the future event, Elizabeth speaks of an accomplished fact, of a reality. Gabriel promised that she will give birth to a son, but Elizabeth speaks here of something that has already happened. She uses the present tense. She says “Blessed is the fruit of your womb!” I know, in the NIV it says, “Blessed is the child you will bear.” But that’s not how the other translations have it. In accordance with the Greek text they don’t speak here of a future event, but of a present reality. Elizabeth speaks here of the fruit of the womb that is already present. And that is why she also calls her “the mother of my Lord.” In this way Elizabeth is the one who announces to her that she is at that moment already with child. She is the one who announces to her that she is pregnant.


Mary herself did not yet know that she was pregnant. Gabriel only a few days earlier had told her that she would become pregnant. But now in the meantime that had already happened – perhaps while she was still in Nazareth getting ready to go to visit Elizabeth, or on the way there. It was a miraculous operation that the Holy Spirit performed upon her. And now he uses Elizabeth to make the announcement of her pregnancy: “Mary you are pregnant, you are the mother of my Lord.” She is the first one who is aware that Mary is indeed pregnant. And she is the first one to speak of that wonderful present reality.


Note well that it says in verse 42 that she exclaimed in a loud voice. That’s very unusual. Elizabeth is an old woman. Old women usually don’t shout, and certainly not a woman in Elizabeth’s position. She was under self-imposed silence because of her husband. But now, through the Holy Spirit she speaks in a loud voice so that everyone around her in the neighbourhood could hear her. The Holy Spirit chose her to make that wonderful news known. He wants her to announce it to everyone within earshot. Everyone must know how blessed Mary is, and how blessed the fruit of her womb is.


In verse 45, the word “blessed” is used again. There she uses a different word. In verse 42 she uses the word “eulogeo.” We get our word “eulogy” from it. A eulogy is usually delivered at a funeral. Then we want to speak well of a person. That is what that word means: to speak well of someone. But the Greek is richer than that. The verb means not only to speak well of someone, but also to honour or praise or bless a person. So Elizabeth says that Mary and that baby are going to be the most blessed people on the planet.


It is exactly the kind of encouragement that Mary needed at that time. She has to realize that whatever else she has to deal with because of the pregnancy, pales in comparison of the significance of the birth of that child. She knows something that the world does not know. She knows that that child is a miracle from God.


In verse 45 she uses another word. That word especially has to do with being favoured by God (makaria). And so through the Holy Spirit she says that because Mary believed the Lord God when he told her that she would have a child, she will be highly favoured.


Brothers and sisters, when you have faith God will bless you. He will also make you highly favoured. That is true for Elizabeth, but also for you. That is also true for you young mothers and for the young women in this congregation who are about to bear children. If you believe the promises of God, even though you know that you and your child may face all kinds of difficulties, then you are not afraid. God favours you, even when he gives you a special child that has special needs. That’s his child in the first place. And the Lord God has a certain purpose for you in mind, and also for your child. You may not know what that is, but if you have faith he will bless you. He will give you enough strength for each day to help you deal with your special situation. He will also equip your child with spiritual blessings.


That was certainly the case with the baby that Mary carried in her womb. He faced enormous difficulties, difficulties that none of us would be able to deal with. But if there ever was a man of faith, it was that baby. He had the perfect faith. Throughout his life he trusted fully in his Father in heaven. For that reason he was able to accomplish the task that he came to accomplish. He would be able to withstand the ridicule and the suffering, and finally being forsaken by the Father.


And Mary, she also faced a hard life, and she was also able to bear it all. Yes, she was a sinful woman but she was also a woman of faith. She treasured the miraculous things that were said about her Son and the miraculous things that he did in her heart. She treasured the words of Gabriel in her heart and now also the words of Elizabeth.


Ultimately they were the words of God. And you see, brothers and sisters, that is what makes her such a strong woman. And that is what makes Elizabeth such a strong woman as well. These are women of faith. They are godly women. And they are so significant because of what God was doing through them. The words that they used in order to encourage one another were biblical words. They have such a strong bond because of the faith that they shared. They have such a strong bond because they both know that they belong to their Father in heaven and that he will look after them. And even though there are lots of uncertainties for both of them, especially as it concerned the future well-being of their children, they were able to be at rest.


They knew that their lives were in God’s hands. And that is why this is such a restful passage. You get a sense of peace. You see peaceful women here because they trust in God. And so, blessed are all of you when you too believe what the Lord says will be accomplished through you and your children. Amen



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2009, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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