The Visitation: Blessings from God

Mary visits Elizabeth
Mary, who is pregnant with Jesus, visits her relative Elizabeth, who is pregnant with John the Baptist, based on Luke 1:39–56. From a book by Martin Luther interpreting Gospels, 1536.

Lessons: Song of Solomon 2:8-14, Romans 12:9-16, Luke 1:39-56
Hymns: LSB 913, 385, 966, 609, 940

Listen to the entire service here (the sermon alone is above).

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      Today is known as the Visitation. The angel Gabriel spoke to Mary saying she will give birth to Jesus even though she was a virgin. Mary asked how can that be. Gabriel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:26-38). Upon hearing this wonderful news, Mary visits her relative, Elizabeth.

      Now, a week ago yesterday—that is, June 24—is day the Church observes the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. Because Elizabeth was six months ahead of Mary with her pregnancy, it is fitting that the Church observes the birth of John six months before Christmas. A week later, John would have been circumcised and named according to the Old Testament Ceremonial Law. That brings us to yesterday. Some have suggested that the following day—today—Mary would have returned home, now three months pregnant.

      It’s good to consider these things when they come up in the Church Year, especially when they fall on a Sunday. We are reminded that the entire year is filled with anniversaries and commemorations over important events that have happened not only in Bible times, but also in the lives of the saints who have gone before us.

      In fact, yesterday marked the 500th anniversary of a sad event that occurred during the Reformation. On July 1, 1523, the first Lutherans were martyred. Jan van Essen and Hendrik Vos were burned at the stake in Brussels, Belgium for having heard the teachings of the Reformation, believed them, and refused to recant their beliefs. Just like the bravery of Americans who declared independence and those who have fought for our freedoms serve as examples to strengthen us, so also do those first Lutheran martyrs. We bravely follow their faithful example and cling to the truth of God’s Word no matter what.

      Mary and Elizabeth serve as excellent examples of faith. Mary believes the most amazing promise given to her, and she also believes the report that her relative, Elizabeth is now six months pregnant. And so she goes to the hill country to visit her. When Mary enters the house and greets Elizabeth, John the Baptist leaped in Elizabeth’s womb, for John the Baptist is filled with the Holy Spirit.

      From this account, we hear of several blessings that God lovingly grants to His dear children. Yet, many try to distort these blessings by teaching things contrary to what God teaches through the Scriptures.

      First, we learn that faith is worked by God the Holy Spirit. Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed for children, yet they remained barren. In faith, they accepted God’s will for them. Then, when Elizabeth was beyond the age of giving birth, she conceived and bore a child. John the Baptist was born as the forerunner to the Messiah to prepare the way of the Lord. He is, as Jesus said, more than a prophet.

      In faith, Mary believed the word of the angel Gabriel. She knew the only way to bear a child is to be with a man. Yet, her reason was set aside, and she trusted the promise of God.

      In faith, John the Baptist leaped upon hearing the voice of Mary, for she was carrying the Son of God in her womb. This demonstrates God can create faith in even the littlest of humans.

      God the Holy Spirit worked faith in these people. In every case, there was speaking and hearing. People do not believe through their own reason or strengthen, but the Holy Spirit calls by the Gospel. He does the converting through His Word.

      Yet, many distort these Christian teachings by suggesting man has reason to make himself believe or that the blessings of God could somehow come apart from faith. We reject these distortions.

      Second, by grace God chose these people to serve Him. He did not first examine them to see if they happened to have the right qualities. He either gave them those qualities or chose to use these feeble sinners anyway. Such a relief that is for us! No parent feels fully adequate, yet God chooses us to be parents. None of us are righteous, yet God chooses to add us to His family by grace through Baptism. None of us can muster up faith, but God graciously works faith in us.

      Third, children are a blessing from the Lord. Psalm 127:3 declares, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” In the Old Testament, there are several well-known prophets or patriarchs who are mentioned from birth. Consider Isaac who was born to Abraham and Sarah even after she was past the age of childbearing. Or consider Moses who was put in a basket in the Nile River. Or consider Samuel, whose mother, Hannah, was barren and prayed for a son. Or consider Jeremiah, whom the Lord said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5).

      Sadly, many try to distort God’s teaching by claiming children are unnecessary or could be aborted. In our day, having a family is often given a back seat to our careers. Many have replaced children with pets. Many try to separate God’s gift of sexual relations within marriage from childbearing. Drug and surgeries are administered to men and women to sterilize them. These are all efforts to stop God from authoring new life. We reject these distortions.

      Fourth, God’s gift of creating humans as male and female is a blessing. Today’s Gospel involves two adult women. God blessed them with wombs that bore children. Motherhood is the highest honor. The work of God in creating children is a miracle.

      Yet, this blessing is being distorted today as our children are being indoctrinated into thinking that humans can somehow be nonbinary or transgender. Children are being recruited to have so called “age-appropriate gender-affirming health care.” The trends among teens thinking they are transgender is alarming. Too many ruin their bodies through medication or surgery. There’s an assault on women as men are pretending to be women so they can win at women’s sports. Some “women of the year” are actually men. All the work that has been done to secure rights for women compatible with Christianity are being tossed down the drain. Women are further dehumanized, as they are being called “birthing persons” or “uterus havers,” in an attempt ignore gender altogether.

      On these matters, it seems like Christians have lost the culture war. The Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, even though the Constitution guarantees no such thing. But those fighting to win the right for same-sex marriage weren’t content. They have come after our children and are indoctrinating them to accept transgenderism. People are finally catching on. For many, it wasn’t about letting those with same-sex attraction live at peace minding their own business; instead, it was always about reforming the whole society and redefining not only marriage but also what it means to be human. Because of this relentless and militant push, Christians along with those who have a conscience have been pushing back. This past month, some corporations suffered as they promoted these shameful alternative lifestyles. It is finally becoming acceptable in society to take a stand for what is right. Of course, as Christians we do not need to wait for society to accept us. The world will never tolerate the truth. And so, we remain steadfast as we cling to God’s Word of truth despite the mocking and rejection of the world.

      Today’s epistle sheds light on how to handle the various challenges we face as Christians in a society where Christian values are rejected. Instead of throwing in the towel and joining them, we heed the Word of God. Instead of insulting or condemning those caught up in sin, we call to them to repentance. Instead of celebrating sin with pride or giving in to the sinful trends of our day, God the Holy Spirit calls on us to “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” As we abhor evil, this does not mean we forever shun and ostracize those who are caught up in the sinful prevailing winds of our day. Instead, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” We want them to see the light of the Gospel. We want them to repent and amend their sinful ways. We want them to be a part of the Body of Christ. We want them to receive the salvation of their bodies and souls. And so we “Love one another with brotherly affection.”

      It was love that motivated God to promise to Adam and Eve a Savior who would come to take away the sin of the world. God’s love is fulfilled in giving us children, especially the Child born of Mary who would take away the world’s sin. Jesus died in your place to redeem you. What a blessing it is that you are reconciled to God through Christ by grace through faith!

      We’ve heard numerous blessings today that sadly many are trying to distort. May we hold fast the blessings we have in Christ so that we receive the goal of our faith—eternal salvation—and that these blessings will be preserved for our children and our children’s children! Amen.  

      The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.  Amen