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
Luke explains the reason for Elizabeth’s exclamation was the filling of the Holy Spirit. Like a prophet, she speaks boldly, and she speaks the words of God as she announces the sure and wonderful end that Mary will have because she has believed God’s word. Not that the fulfillment of God’s Word depended upon Mary’s faith, but rather that Mary’s happiness was dependent upon her faith. God’s promises are sure and His will is unalterable. The plan of God is not halted or delayed on account of human weakness and it is not powered or hastened by human activity. All this to emphasize the truth of Elizabeth’s prophecy was meant as a comfort for the virgin mother who did believe. This prophetic word is reminiscent of Psalm 137 where King David wrote about the final state of the righteous man who will not be ashamed. In this life, the righteous man may be seen as having less than the unrighteous, but in the end, the Lord will uphold or preserve that righteous one and bring him final satisfaction. Elizabeth, under divine guidance, predicts this righteous woman, Mary, will experience the blessings that God has promised to her, and that will also be the cause of her true joy.
Look with me at the phrase, “why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Elizabeth calls Mary the mother of her Lord, but what does she mean by the word “Lord”? She means to communicate Mary is the mother of her God. That small developing child inside Mary is God incarnate. Throughout his entire Gospel, Luke never employs the term “Lord” for any other purpose than to indicate diety(1). I can almost hear the questions now. Someone might object, “the idea of Mary being the mother of God sounds very Roman Catholic to me. Pastor, are you converting?” No, I am not converting and this phrase likely sounds Roman Catholic to our evangelical ears because the term is frequently repeated in the famous “Hail Mary” prayers. I think the church of Rome has attributed too much to Mary, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater as they say. The title Mother of God seems to be a biblical title and an important historical title recognized by the ancient church.
Why would the early Christians employ the phrase “Mary the mother of God”? In 451 AD there was a gathering of pastors at Chalcedon, an ancient city in the modern country of Turkey. This ecumenical council was gathered to discuss and oppose Trinitarian and Christological heresy. The product of this important council was a brilliantly written creed that is usually called the Definition of Chalcedon. Those bishops used the Greek term “Theotokos”, which means mother of God, to describe the incarnation. This phrase was not meant to deify Mary but to further defend the two natures of Christ against heretical views.
“…forasmuch as those who attempt to set aside the preaching of the truth have produced foolish utterances through their own heresies, some daring to corrupt the mystery of the Lord’s incarnation for us, and denying the title “Theotokos” (Mother of God/God bearer) to the virgin; others introducing a confusion and mixture, shamelessly imagining too the nature of the flesh and of the Godhead to be one, and absurdly maintaining that the divine nature of the only-begotten is by this confusion passible…”Definition of Chalcedon
Mary was the virgin mother chosen by God to conceive of the Holy Ghost and bear the Son of God. Because Jesus is truly God and truly man, Mary is rightfully called the mother of God. The Son of God is co-eternal, co-equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit. As Elizabeth rightly exclaims, Mary is blessed and her blessing is the result of that blessed baby growing in her womb who is the Christ.
“…acknowledged in two natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference of the natures being in no way removed because of the union, but rather the properties of each nature being preserved, and concurring into one person and one hypostasis; not as though He were parted or divided into two person, but on and the self-same Son and only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ; even as from the beginning the prophets have taught concerning Him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself hath taught us, and as the symbol of the father hath handed down to us.”Definition of Chalcedon
(1) Here is a list of verses in Luke 1 that use the word “Lord” and each use of the term is synonymous with “God”.
And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.Luke 1:6
according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.Luke 1:9
And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.Luke 1:11
for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”Luke 1:15-17
has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”Luke 1:25
And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the is with you!”Luke 1:28
He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,Luke 1:32
And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.Luke 1:38
And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?Luke 1:43
And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,Luke 1:45-46
And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.Luke 1:58
and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.Luke 1:66
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his peopleLuke 1:68
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,Luke 1:76