In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It appears that no sooner did the angel leave Mary than she packed up and went to see her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth was in the latter stages of her own miracle pregnancy and Mary was likely going to share the joy and perhaps help with the birth of John. The Virgin Mary was going to visit Saint Elizabeth.
But it wasn’t just the two women who were there. Two others, still hidden to the world, were there and enjoying the event. How do we know? When the pre-born infant, Saint John the Baptizer, heard the greeting of the Blessed Virgin, he leaped for joy! Mind you, this was no ordinary “kicking” of a baby in his mother. The verb is very clear that John leaped for joy! He knew when he heard Mary’s voice that He was in the presence of His Savior, who was merely a cluster of cells, the size of the tip of a pencil, inside His own mother.
God-in-the-flesh was visiting Saints Elizabeth and John, and they were experiencing this joy to the world! John leaps for joy. Elizabeth cheerfully chants a greeting to Mary and her Baby. This is a beautiful picture of the Church – God coming to His people, bringing His peace with His presence, and His Church responds in prayer and praise!
Of course, here, the Blessed Virgin and Saint Elizabeth are gifted in recognizing God’s presence among them. But our own sinful flesh, along with the devil and the world, are always working against that recognition. Most often, we would rather not see and hear God, and we refuse to welcome His visitation.
Are you in the habit of coming to church less than weekly? Do you find it a chore to sit and listen to a sermon and sing a bit of liturgy and hymns? Then you are avoiding the Lord’s Gifts and begrudging His gracious visitation. Do you say, “Sunday School and Bible Class are for other people. I don’t need to be there.” Then you are “despising preaching and His Word” and refusing His visitation. Do you believe the devil’s lies that abortion is simply a political issue, and would rather not be involved? Then you are turning your back on the least of these, refusing to show the love and mercy of Christ to others, and thereby refusing His visitation.
On a side note, what an amazing account this morning, supporting God’s valuing of life before birth! As Elizabeth is finishing her second trimester of pregnancy, God blesses John with faith that recognizes the Lord and His physical, bodily presence. And He doesn’t simply call John a fetus; he is a baby. A believing baby who recognizes that salvation is come in the flesh, and is inside the womb of his cousin.
But what about all these times that we refuse our Lord’s visitation? What can we say, knowing that our sinful flesh is uncomfortable in God’s presence, and wants to avoid His visitation? We can say nothing. We can do nothing. We are helpless and hopeless as we sit in the darkness of our sin.
Today we rejoice with several new friends in Christ, who join our family at St. John’s. They come with us to realize that our gracious Lord is coming to visit us, day after day and week after week. They have been taught the truth of our Coming King, who visits us in the preaching of His Gospel and in the administration of His Holy Sacraments.
And together we are thrilled to receive this forgiveness, mercy, and love through His visitation, which He delivers through these Gifts, and which remove the guilt of despising that visitation in the first place!
In the song, “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” people are told to be good, as this will ensure that Santa will bring them good gifts. It is up to you to do your part – to keep your end of the bargain – with your good behavior that will earn good presents. Thanks be to God that we don’t depend on our own good deeds or behavior to get good gifts from Him. The Lord enters our lives as the Holy Baby inside the womb of Mary, the dying man on the cross, the rising Lord from the empty tomb, now coming through water, words, bread and wine. No matter how good we have been, our Newborn King brings the good Gift of Himself and frees us from the darkness of sin that had enveloped us.
As much as we enjoy “Santa’s visits,” and as fun as “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” is, for the Christian it is far more important that Jesus Christ is Coming! At Advent, and always, we repent of our failure to welcome His gracious visitation, and rejoice in the certain hope we have in the King who comes. And we are filled with humble thanks that He doesn’t bring His gifts according to how bad or good we have been. Jesus comes and gives the gifts that bring Himself, and forgives us for our constant failures to “be good for goodness’ sake.”
As the Holy Spirit delivers Jesus to us in His Holy Sacrament, He makes us good for Jesus’ sake! Today, as always, the Holy Spirit is pointing, directing our attention and focus to Christ Jesus our Lord.
Directing our attention and focus to Christ – that is what Saint John the Baptizer does. In his adult life he was careful to direct attention away from himself and onto Jesus. “I am not the Christ,” he confessed. “He must increase and I must decrease.” Even here, as a pre-born infant, John is pointing to Jesus. He leaps for joy, making sure that his mother recognizes the identity of their holy Visitor.
Directing our attention and focus to Christ – this is what Saint Elizabeth does, as she chants a greeting to our Lord and His mother. Humbled that God would enter her house, she warmly welcomes Him and the woman who is bearing Him.
Directing our attention and focus to Christ – this is also what the Blessed Virgin Mary does. She would be embarrassed and sad if attention were given to her by herself. Instead, like John, her identity and work are wrapped up in Jesus. The Virgin rejoices in her Son, God, her Savior, as she magnifies the Lord. As she visits with Elizabeth, it is not for her own attention or comfort or recognition. Mary’s visit to the household of Zechariah is really our Lord’s visit, blessing the home of the prophet John with the salvific presence of Jesus Christ, before either of them are born!
Jesus has visited you now, with His Word. He has visited you, crushing you with His Law, reminding you that there is no worthiness in you – you have not been good for goodness’ sake – and there is no reason from you that God should rescue you. He has also visited you with His Gospel, healing you and releasing you from the confines of sin, death, and hell, rescuing you with His saving presence!
Soon, our Lord will visit you in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. Here Jesus attaches the Word of His promise to the bread and wine. Here He comes in His Body and Blood, visiting you and bringing you forgiveness, life, and salvation. Here, He directs attention away from yourself and solely on Him, that you might enjoy eternal salvation with Him, as He rains His righteousness upon you!
Praise the Lord, who visits you in the flesh, that you may be His forever! Amen.