Saturday, December 12, 2015

Two women rejoicing

Luke 1:39-45, the gospel reading for the 4th Sunday in Advent in the Year of Luke, continues the extended story of John the Baptist which we have in this gospel, albeit now with another character added - Mary.  It is striking that the long opening chapter of Luke's gospel (80 verses) is almost entirely devoted to the pre-birth, birth, and introduction of John the Baptist.  It is easy to overlook the fact that of these 80 verses, nearly 60 of them have to do with John, and most of the rest of them have to do with Mary, and only a few have to do with Jesus.  This year of Luke, then, gives us a rare chance to explore this story in depth, and ponder why John's story was deemed so important by this gospel writer.

(The following questions are designed to unearth some of the key issues for Law/Gospel preachers.  For a further look at this type of preaching you are invited to purchase my guide to Law/Gospel preaching by clicking the image of the book on this page.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  The Word here functions as pure gospel.  It is a scene of great joy.  This visitation, and the announcement that God's divine favor has been visited upon God's people is a scene of hilarious joy.  The people of God are no longer forgotten, no longer in exile (as it were), no longer sitting in anticipation of the Lord's coming, but the Word of the Lord has been fulfilled.

2. How is the Word not functioning in the text?  There is no word of Law here at all.  There is no word that lifts up the need of humanity for the saving action of God.  All of the indications of joy in the text hint at the oppression under which these women have been living, but nothing in the text points directly at their own need of a saving Christ.  Mary's song of praise in the verses that follow this text (46-55) point out the context of these women and their fellow citizens - "lowly", "hungry", living under "the powerful" and "the proud."

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  Elizabeth, the one who says, "And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?" is the one to whom the Word comes.  She is the one with whom we can most easily identify, not Mary.  We too stand agape as the Christ is sent to us to proclaim freedom, to forgive, and to bless.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  The call to obedience, the Word that says, "Follow Jesus" is not present here.  That word, which gives us guidance on how to live in light of the announcement that Christ has come for us, will have to come from different texts.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by the text?  We need to take our cue from Mary's song to answer this:  lowly/raised up, hungry/filled with good things, oppressed/delivered, forgotten/remembered.

6.  Exegetical work:  It is especially important in this text to read the verses that precede this account.  In earlier verses we see that John was said to be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth.  And so when Mary calls out her greeting to Elizabeth, the unborn John gives witness to the Christ's presence even before his mother does. And then, as if John had passed on the Spirit to his mother, Elizabeth cries out in a loud voice, "Blessed are you among women!"  It is telling to note that the redundancy present in the Greek text gives voice to the excitement of Elizabeth, when it says, literally, "She cried out loudly with a great shout."  The joy present was deafening!  It is also worth noting that Gabriel's appearance to Mary was only days before this visitation.  Luther surmises that the Christ was only 4 days in the womb when Mary reached Elizabeth's home!  Clearly it was not Mary's outward appearance that signaled the presence of the Christ, and even less her identity as "the mother of my Lord."  The presence of the Christ could only be signaled by the Holy Spirit.  It is perhaps worth pondering the question, "What signals for us the presence of the Christ amongst us?"

Blessings on your proclamation!

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