I wonder if you've ever had a little rush of excitement when you've been going about your day & suddenly someone famous comes into your sight. It may be a sports star or well know musician. I had a little moment like that when Lee Keegan walked into Chilli Coffee Shop when I was there one day. Then I thought, it's Westport so off course I'm going to see him around. I recognised him because of his exploits for the Mayo football team. In the part of Christmas story we’re going to think about now we see excitement & joy as Elizabeth & her unborn son recognise who Jesus is.
"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 fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” - Luke 1:39-45
In this little account we find a senior citizen & a teenager & both of them find themselves miraculously pregnant in different ways. Old barren Elizabeth is now six months pregnant, while the young Virgin Mary has only just conceived. The angel had just told Mary about her older cousin Elizabeth, so Mary couldn't wait to go visit her - journeying almost 100 miles through dangerous wasteland to do so. When Mary arrived, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit & spoke a beautiful blessing over Mary. As Philip Ryken puts it; "There was a spontaneous outburst of exultant joy, as the old covenant greeted the new."
For months the hidden joy in Elizabeth's life had been her own pregnancy after years of barrenness. Yet instead of being caught up in her own exciting news, she immediately rejoiced in what God had done for Mary. She didn't allow her personal joy to blind her to the bigger story or the big news of another. There is a lesson here for us, we ought not let our personal circumstances - good or bad - blind us to the lives of others or to the bigger story of God's redemptive plan.
These verses also show us the joy that comes whenever anyone recognises that Jesus is the Christ. Baby John leaped for joy in the womb & Elisabeth overflowed with joyful praise. Even in the womb Jesus ignited joy in hearts! In the next chapter the angel declares to the shepherds; "I bring you news of great joy that will be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a saviour, who is Christ the Lord." Jesus brought joy to everyone who recognised him as Lord, Saviour or Messiah - even before he was born! Do we recognise who Jesus is? Knowing true joy depends on it!
We're told twice in this account that the baby in Elizabeth's womb “leaped for joy”. The angel had also previously told Zechariah, her husband, that the baby John would “be filled with Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). Note, the unborn baby is viewed as a real person with a capacity to experience emotion & even experience God! This little account then gives great value & dignity to both the elderly & the unborn! To the most vulnerable. The wider Christmas narrative also gives great value to the outcast shepherds, the old man Simeon, the sceptical priest Zechariah, the foreign wise men, the honourable Joseph & teenage Mary (who for a time became refugees) & of course old barren Elisabeth. None of those who recognise Jesus are excluded from the joyful celebrations & all are given a significant part in the story! Yet at the same time none, not even Mary, are allowed to share centre stage with Jesus. The consistent focus through Luke’s telling of the Christmas story is on recognising who baby Jesus is.
Elizabeth felt honoured that Mary "the mother of my Lord", as she put it, would visit her. She recognised who Jesus was & she was also the first person to confess him as her Lord! John in the womb was the first to recognise Jesus, Elisabeth is the first to confess him as her Lord. She confessed the unborn child in Mary's womb as her Lord & selflessly & humbly celebrated the good thing God had done in Mary, even though it overshadowed what God had done for her. What an example & challenge this elderly woman is to us. This is how everyone should respond to Jesus. Confessing him as our Lord is the only appropriate response when we recognise who he is.
You & I have even more reason to believe in Jesus than Elizabeth did at this time. She & John rejoiced over his conception, but we can also rejoice because of what his perfect life, death & resurrection accomplished for us & the world! We can also rejoice because he sent his Holy Spirit to us & because has promised to come again in power as judge & saviour of the world! Yes! We have even more reason for joy when we recognise who he is! So this Christmas time know deeply that there is joy to be found in recognising Jesus for who he is! Eternal joy. That is, joy which is both everlasting & heavenly in quality!