Posted by: Johnold J. Strey | December 21, 2017

Sermon on Luke 1:39-45

This is the final sermon in a three-part Advent sermon series, titled, “O Lord, How Shall I Meet You?”


With Miraculous Joy  (John the Baptist)

Based on Luke 1:39-45


Any parent or grandparent, any caretaker or teacher, anyone who deals with little children will tell you that those little ones learn and absorb far more than we might assume at first. I remember my children as toddlers suddenly belting out songs they heard for a few weeks in a row in church even though we never actively tried to teach them those songs. My wife teaches music classes for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers that are based on the psychologically proven premise that little children will learn simply by being in a musically rich environment. When our youngest two children were born, the midwives who attended the birth had a very specific post-birth routine that they followed to help our newborns learn to recognize and attach to mom and dad. Research indicates that children still in the womb are already able to identify the voice of their mother, and their little brains are already taking the first steps toward comprehending language. Experts today agree that toddlers and infants and, yes, even babies still in the womb are learning and absorbing far more than we once thought.

If we could go back in time tonight, and share this modern research and these cutting edge findings with Elizabeth, the first-century B.C. Jewish mother of John the Baptist, she might look at us as if we were a bunch of Johnnys-come-lately who were stating the obvious. She might tell us that she had that figured out long before the New York Times published the latest findings on prenatal learning and development.

In our brief meditation tonight, we take another step forward in the Advent story from Luke 1. We go with Mary, the mother of Jesus, as she visits her relative Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. And on this visit we see far more than Elizabeth’s baby showing signs of prenatal development. On this visit we see Elizabeth’s baby greeting our Lord and his mother with miraculous joy. 


“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.” Prior to these words, Mary had just found out from God’s angel that she had been given the honor of being the mother of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. But as we noted last week, it is possible that this news was not met with enthusiasm by Mary’s family and neighbors. They may have been less inclined to believe a story about an angel and a miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit and more inclined to believe that Mary hadn’t remained a virgin before the formal time came for Joseph and her to begin their married life together under the same roof. Now, let me be clear: this is speculation. But I can imagine that the news from the angel prompted Mary to visit Elizabeth, who lived in the hill country of Judea and not in the city of Nazareth. Elizabeth was also having a miraculous son, and her husband had also received an angelic birth announcement. It was only natural that Mary would want to be with the one person who could relate to what she was experiencing.

New Testament Illustrations 018“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” Mary’s first words after the knock on the door caused a reaction by the in utero John the Baptist. We may wonder how it can be said that a baby who has reached the start of his final trimester before birth could be said to leap for joy in his mother’s womb. But let us not forget that this was no ordinary baby, and this was no ordinary greeting. When the angel Gabriel told John’s father, Zechariah, that he and Elizabeth would have a son, the angel was very specific about the unique child they would have: “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. … He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.”

Luke tells us that, not only is Elizabeth’s baby filled with the Holy Spirit, but at this moment so was Elizabeth. And so the words Elizabeth proclaims are not just overly ecstatic exclamations, but words with the wisdom and insights of the Holy Spirit. “In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘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? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!’”

The same Holy Spirit who kept the angel’s promise and possessed the heart of John the Baptist before he was born is the same Holy Spirit who led Elizabeth to recognize that there was more than meets the eye at this front door greeting at her home. Elizabeth herself is filled with joy: Who else receives an honor like this, to have the mother of the Son of God travel such distance to greet her in her home? This is a bigger deal than if Jimmy Fallon, Prince William, or Aaron Rodgers showed up at our front door!

But Elizabeth also knew that Mary was even more richly blest. Of all the women in all of world history, Mary received an honor that no one else ever had or ever would have. Elizabeth was carrying a miraculous child in her womb, but Mary was carrying an even more miraculous child in her womb. Mary was carrying God in human flesh! We are entirely correct to say that within the next nine months, Mary would give birth to God! And Mary was blessed not just for receiving this honor but especially because she understood and trusted the ultimate purpose God had in mind with this miraculous child who would carry out God’s eternal plan to rescue and redeem humankind from its sin.

It was that honor, and that honored guest, and the presence of that miraculously conceived child that led the yet-unborn John the Baptist to a miraculous expression: an expression of joy in his mother’s womb at the presence of the little embryo Jesus and his mother Mary. Were it any other child and any other greeting, we might not make so much of a third trimester baby kicking around inside its mother. But the Holy Spirit tells us in the Word of God tonight that this baby was a part of God’s plan to introduce the Savior to the world, that this baby would be filled with the Holy Spirit even before birth, and that this baby leapt with miraculous joy at the arrival of Mary and Jesus.

You have seen people leap for joy. Watch the moment the renovated home is revealed to the excited couple on HGTV, and you might see people jump for joy. Watch someone win the bonus round on Wheel of Fortune and you might see someone jump for joy. Leaping for joy is certainly not outside our experience.

John, whom we know was filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth, recognized in faith that he was in the presence of his Lord and Savior, and in miraculous joy he leapt for joy in his mother’s womb. Certainly there is a lesson here about faith! Certainly we cannot limit faith or the power of God’s Word only to a certain age and mental ability. Certainly we aren’t wasting our words when we sing hymns around infant children or read Bible stories to them, for the Holy Spirit uses his powerful Word and the powerful combination of Word and water in baptism to place the miracle of faith in those little hearts—faith that gave John miraculous joy at the presence of Jesus.


Joy is really a product of faith in Jesus Christ. And if faith is a miracle, then in a sense, so is the joy that faith produces. Let’s face it: There are times when you sense the joy of faith even when you don’t particularly feel happy. You stand at the graveside of a loved one and you have the joy of faith in the resurrection even as you feel the tears of sorrow over your loss. You face trials and troubles in life, sensing the very real concern and anxiety those problems cause, yet holding on to the joy of faith that knows that God works all things to best guide and bless his children. The joy of faith is a miracle, and we get a sense of that when we still sense the joy that flows from faith even at very un-joyful times in life.

The joy of faith is also a miracle because we know how easy it would be to greet our Lord not with John’s enthusiasm but with a lackluster heart. Look at those same sorrows and losses and challenges and crosses. Why should I find joy when I stand at that grave site? Why should I find joy when I have problems that I can’t solve or that have no expiration date? It takes but a moment for my sinful nature to squeeze out faith’s joy in the midst of life’s troubles, and that sinful nature keeps squeezing my soul, trying to squelch my faith altogether!

This is why faith and the joy of faith are such miracles. Our default spiritual condition cannot see joy in sadness and hope in sorrow because it cannot see who the baby inside Mary’s womb really is. All our sinful nature can produce is unbelief, and all it can receive is hell.

But you are not your sinful nature. You are a child of God, brought to faith through a miracle of the Holy Spirit, who used God’s Word and the waters of Holy Baptism to open your eyes wider than a child seeing all the presents under the Christmas tree for the first time. You are a child of God to whom the Holy Spirit has given faith that the child in Mary’s womb who would later lay in Bethlehem’s manger is also the eternal Son of God. You are a child of God whom the Holy Spirit has led to believe that Jesus came to take up your sins and sorrow all the way to the cross so that he could put joy and bliss back into your eternal future. And the knowledge that Mary’s child came to live and die and rise again for you lets you have joy and confidence right now that no matter what sorrows life throws at you, life can never throw away the joy of faith now that leads to the joy of heaven forever.


Sometimes we need to slow down from life—especially our hectic lives and schedules before Christmas—and refocus on what December 25 is all about. So stop. Wonder. Ponder. Let the “wow” of Advent spill over you as it spilled over Elizabeth. Let the joy of a pre-born infant find its way into your heart, because you too are being greeted by the Savior. He meets you in this house, he speaks to you at this lectern, he gave you the joy of faith at the font, and he feeds your faith with himself and with his joy-producing forgiveness at this table. Thanks to the gifts Jesus’ Advent brings, we can meet him with miraculous joy in his house and at his final return. Amen.



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