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“The Three Wise Women of Christmas: Elizabeth”
Luke 1:39-56


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Advent Service II—December 10, 2008

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

For our three Advent services this year, we are focusing on the “Three Wise WOMEN of Christmas,” Mary, Elizabeth, and Anna.  As I mentioned last week, we hear a lot about the three wise MEN, and they have a prominent place in the traditional nativity scene.  But, really, we know almost nothing about the wise men.  In contrast, the Bible gives us many details about the three wise WOMEN who play such a prominent role in the Christmas story. 

Hebrews says, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”  In the witness and faith of Mary, Elizabeth, and Anna, we have a powerful testimony and example of faith for us to imitate.  We continue this evening with the second wise woman of Christmas, who was the second human to know the Good News of the incarnation, Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth. 

“At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.”  In the Christmas story, there are actually two amazing births which take place, Jesus, AND his cousin, John the Baptist. 

Six months before the angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary to tell her, “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,” he had appeared to Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah. “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.” 

The important difference between these miraculous births was, of course, that Mary, as Martin Luther says, “conceived a child and became a mother not by virtue of a man, but by the Holy Spirit.”  In the case of Elizabeth and Zechariah, Luke tells us, “They had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.”  The miracle in their case was that the Lord enabled them to conceive a child in the natural way.  As Gabriel tells Mary, “Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”

“At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Elizabeth’s wisdom did not come from within herself.  She was “filled with the Holy Spirit,” enlightened with what James describes as “the wisdom that comes down from above.”  That is why Elizabeth says to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!  But why am I so favored, that the mother of MY LORD should come to me?”  Elizabeth recognizes the child in Mary’s womb as the Messiah, and Mary as the mother of our Lord, because she was “filled with the Holy Spirit,” she received enlightenment from above.

Satan falsely promised wisdom to the first woman, Eve, if only she would disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit.  “When you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.”  But, instead of gaining wisdom and enlightenment, Adam and Eve’s rebellion plunged the entire world, including us, into spiritual ignorance and darkness.  As the Gospel of John declares, “This is the verdict . . . men loved darkness rather light because their deeds were evil.”

Many people celebrate Christmas with lots of lights, but they’re really in the dark.  Because they celebrate without knowing what it’s really all about.  In order to understand and believe the real significance of Christmas, we must, like Elizabeth, be “filled with the Holy Spirit,” and receive “the wisdom that comes down from above.” For, it is only by such enlightenment from above that we understand and believe WHO the child born of Mary is: “Blessed is the child you will bear!  But why am I so favored, that the mother of MY LORD should come to me?” 

Christmas isn’t just an enchanting fable about a baby born in a stable once upon a time.  Christmas is the Good News of God come down to earth and made man, “incarnate by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.”  Christmas is the Good News of YOUR salvation.  For, the Babe of Bethlehem was born for YOU, to live in your place a perfect life, to die on the cross as a sacrifice for your sins, to rise again so that you will rise to eternal life.  “God rest you merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay; Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day; To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray; O tidings of comfort and joy!”

Like Elizabeth, be WISE this Christmas season.  Be WISE by understanding and believing the “real reason for the season.”  “Blessed is the child you will bear!  But why am I so favored, that the mother of MY LORD should come to me?” 

Elizabeth was wise in another way that you may not have thought about.  The angel Gabriel announced to Zechariah, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.  He will be a joy and delight to you.”

It was extremely painful for Zechariah and Elizabeth to be childless.  It that culture, being childless was cruelly considered to be a punishment from God.  That’s not the teaching of the Bible, but that’s how people thought back then, and we still sometimes think today when bad things happen.

Yet Elizabeth did not believe that God had forsaken her.  She trusted in the Lord, and his promises, and took her troubles and sorrows to him in prayer.  Luke reports, “After this Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth became pregnant . . .  ‘The Lord has done this for me,’ she said. ‘In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.’”

Martin Luther comments, “So the pain that Elizabeth and Zechariah had previously suffered over having been childless was transformed into an even that much more abundantly precious thing.  God gave them so much blessing for their disappointments that it was immeasurable, surpassing all that could have been hoped.  For when God comes, he compensates so abundantly that he gives us more than we could have hoped or thought.”  “Your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son . . .  he will be a joy and delight to you.”

Like Elizabeth, be WISE in your times of pain and sorrow.  Trust in the Lord and turn to him for comfort, turn to him with your troubles in prayer.  As Paul says in Philippians, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Amen.

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