In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
(Luke 1:39-45 ESV)
If there is an advantage to living two thousand years after the birth of Christ, I don’t know what it is. The inner cynic in me reads this passage and wants to attribute Elizabeth’s greeting to a later gloss by the Catholic Church. But if we accept that the Bible is the Word of God, that possibility fades.
Still, there are problems with this account. Mary has just become pregnant. The story begins with, “In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country…” I think the vision of angels she had and the visitation of the Holy Spirit would account for that. But where is this honorable man Joseph when Mary decides to pick up and run away from home? The text is incomplete on this point. Did Mary just up and decide to take a walk? The hill country is some distance from Nazareth. Even if Zechariah and Elizabeth lived up in Northern Judah, we’re still talking a walk of some 80 miles as the crow flies from Nazareth to Jerusalem. Did Joseph go with her?
Babies do summersaults in wombs. Anyone who has become a parent knows that. The natural explanation is that the baby was merely kicking. But anyone who has become a parent knows what kicking feels like, and that’s not what’s been reported here. There is an implicit joy in the statement. This baby and his mother experienced something out of the ordinary at that moment.
And then there is Elizabeth’s shriek that accompanies the baby’s leap. Again, we could chalk this up to a mother’s reaction to a particularly strong kick, but it is way more than that. It is a blessing.
Actually it is five blessings. A blessing is an approval. It is stamping a person or an event not just as being good, but as being approved. Maybe the simplest way to explain a blessing is to say it is something that makes the heart of the one offering the blessing glad because they know it will result in good.
Mary is blessed because she’s been chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus. The “fruit of her womb” (Jesus) is blessed because he has been chosen by God to be Messiah. Elizabeth is blessed because she has been visited by “the mother of my Lord.” The baby in her womb (John the Baptist) is blessed because he has received a gift from the Holy Spirit – joy, even in the womb. And the fifth blessing is one that Mary and Elizabeth share, for they are both women who have believed there would be a fulfillment of what God had spoken.
It is when we look at the blessings and bypass the difficulties with this story that we become blessed. And that’s reveals a something really important about how we look at Scripture. If we try to force into the stories of the Bible the completeness we would look for in modern-day literature, we’re sunk. The little details you might find in a novel aren’t there. No one reports what color Mary’s dress was, or what time of day it was when she arrived, or what Elizabeth’s house looked like, or even what route Mary took to get there. That’s because the Bible isn’t history. The Bible is the God who is there revealing himself for blessing. If we want to receive the blessing, we have to join the circle that began with Mary and Elizabeth and believe with them that God will fulfill what he has spoken.