In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to town in Judeah, 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
Outward Signs for Inward Faith
Mary is leaving Nazareth for a while. God sent an angel to deliver the good news of God’s choice for Mary to be the mother of the Messiah. She undoubtedly went through a flurry of emotions as she conversed with Gabriel. At first, she was “greatly troubled” and tried to understand what was happening. After Gabriel tried to comfort her and announce she was the chosen mother to bear the Messiah Mary asked the most obvious question, “How…I am a virgin”. The answer was given “the power of the Most High will overshadow you”. What exactly does that mean? Gabriel is trying to string words together to describe the miracle of God and does well enough, but the answer to Mary’s question “How” is still rather ambiguous.
God was going to work a miracle and this conception would be without ordinary means because this child was not ordinary. Gabriel expects her to believe the impossible is possible. To help Mary’s faith along, Gabriel directs her attention to another miracle pregnancy. “Behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son” he declared. Gabriel points Mary’s attention to her cousin’s pregnancy to illustrate the power of God to make all things possible. With this wonderful news, Mary leaves to see the expecting mother Elizabeth with her own eyes.
Why is this important for us? Mary’s faith is like ours, in need of strengthening. Gabriel gave to Mary a tangible sign to strengthen her inward faith. Consider the Lord’s supper with me as a tangible sign to strengthen. When a man or woman comes to the communion table to partake of that bread and wine they do so for the strengthening of their faith. Does the bread and wine, body and blood, create faith within a man or woman who partakes? No. The Lord’s supper is a physical sign to help strengthen the spiritual faith that already abides within a believer. This is one reason why unbelievers are forbidden to partake. The body and blood of our Lord have not yet been food and drink to the unbeliever and therefore the bread is simply bread and the wine is simply wine in the view of the unbeliever. Communion is not for creating faith, but it is for strengthening faith. Our Lord knows his disciples have “little faith”, and He graciously provides this tangible sign of His covenant with us. Mary was given a physical sign to help her faith because God delights in her, and you are given a physical sign to help your faith. After all, God delights in you too.
In our current American culture, the concept of a baby inside the womb of a mother is confused. On the one hand, if a criminal attacks a pregnant woman and the child dies we call that murder because we recognize the life inside the womb as a human being. On the other hand, if a doctor counsels a pregnant woman to strongly consider an abortion we play word games and replace the word “baby” with “fetus”. How does that work exactly? The term fetus means “a human being” according to the Cambridge Dictionary. How can a logically consistent person hold together these seemingly contradictory views? There could be many ways to answer, but I am simply concerned here with our Christian worldview.
Pay attention to Elizabeth’s child leaping inside the womb, and Mary’s child is called Lord by Elizabeth in the present tense. Why does this matter? What is Scripture’s assumption concerning pregnant women? The underlying assumption is that children are a blessing from God and inside the womb, they are equally human. A Christian worldview can not be rightfully termed “Christian” and simultaneously reject the humanity of children inside a mother’s womb. Pro-Life or Pro-Choice is a new distinction in history. We are called to be in our culture but not of our culture. We are children of another kingdom, and as we travel this life we would do well to remember this is the land of our sojourning and not our destination.