Gospel:  Luke 1:39-45


Old and New


How hard is it to give up the old and accept the new?


No matter how we profess our culture as progressive, there will always be a fear of change. Novelty should not be for novelty sake. World views, habits, and relationships keep us guarded, safe.


Yet, trying to conserve the past, even the best of the past, blinds us from the possibilities of the new. When novelty comes, do we truly look? Or, do we glance with a dismissive turn of the head? Can we allow the new to stand on its own?


An elderly woman took a chance to receive the new. And she received the mother of her Savior.


Literal Translation


39 Having stood up, Mary, in these days, traveled with haste into the hill country, into a city of Judah, 40 entered the house of Zechariah, and greeted Elizabeth. 41 It happened (that), as Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe in her womb (suddenly and vigorously) stirred. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and she shouted a great cry and said, "Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 From where (was) this (encounter) to me that the mother of my Lord might come to me? 44 Look! For, as the sound of your greeting happened in my ears, the babe in my womb (suddenly and vigorously) stirred in exaltation. 45 Happy is the one having trusted that there will be fulfillment to the (words) having been spoken to her from the Lord."


1:39 "having stood up" The verb "stand up" in Greek was used as a code word for resurrection. As it was used in this participle, the verb indicated the beginning of a motion. In other words, Mary stood up with the intention to travel. In the context (after the Annunciation), however, it was the Spirit who "raised Mary up" and sent her on her way. Like many other references in the Gospel, the act of faith changed the person (spiritual "resurrection") and sent them on a journey (a mission).


1:41 Mary's greeting catalyzed two simultaneous events: the stirring of John and the indwelling of the Spirit. In other words, Mary (under the influence of the Spirit) greeted Elizabeth. The Spirit entered Elizabeth and her babe (John) for the purpose of prophecy. John would prophesy for the Messiah; his mother would speak in a way to foreshadow that prophesy. As Elizabeth acknowledged Mary as the mother of the Messiah, so the elderly mother's son would point to the girl's son as Lord.


1:42 "Blessed . . . blessed" is literally "well spoken of." The person pronouncing the blessing was God, not Elizabeth. Her shout of greeting was prophetic. It revealed the stature of Mary and her son. It was not a prayer of blessing upon Mary.


1:43 "From where (was) this (encounter) to me" is loosely "why have I been honored..." In a society that measured honor by age, the reversal (the older was honored by the younger) could only come from God. (The technique turning social norms upside-down was typical of Luke.)


1:45 "Happy" is sometimes translated "blessed." Unlike the prophecy of 1:42, this sentence is phrased in the same way as a Beatitude. In other words, Elizabeth stated the source of Mary's happiness was her faith.


Luke used an insignificant meeting between two pregnant women in order to connect to two of the most important movements in first century Judaism: the followers of John the Baptist and the disciples of Jesus.


John (and his lineage) represented the end of the Old Testament prophets. He was an unusual desert wanderer who preached from conviction and reckless abandon; his speech and lifestyle summed up the prophetic tradition in Judaism.


John's elderly father, Zechariah, represented Judaism and its priestly tradition. Judaism did mediate God to his people, but its ancient character stifled novelty. Hence, presented with a new revelation about his desired son, the priest Zechariah was struck speechless.


However, John's elderly mother, Elizabeth, represented the open, trusting tradition of the female in Judaism. Just as the elderly Sarah became the mother of Isaac and the old Hannah became the mother of Samuel, Elizabeth could receive and rejoice in the birth of a son, even at an old age.


The Blessed Virgin Mary represented a new revelation. God was entering the human stage not only with a new message, but in a completely new way! Through Mary, the Lord was visiting his people.


So the scene was set. Mary traveled to the clan (i.e., "house") of Zachariah and greeted the matriarch of the clan, Elizabeth. [40] No doubt the greeting was formal, for Mary was from a related clan. But Luke turned tradition on its head. Instead of the elderly woman receiving honor from the younger, the tables were turned; Mary was honored (along with her Son). [42-45]


Because of her age, Elizabeth should have been the one who received the attention of maternity. But Mary received praise because she believed in the new revelation. [45] Now, Elizabeth (and her son), too, believed because the Spirit acted. [41]


Notice the themes of exaltation and humility. Through the figure of Elizabeth, Luke humbled the old tradition in a time that honored ancient revelation. Through the figure of Mary, he exalted the new revelation. Through the meeting, he bridged the old to the new. From this moment on, Luke would exalt Jesus and diminish John's role. For Luke, the time of Judaism had past; the time of Christianity had dawned.


This passing matched the historical events of the first century. With the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 A.D., and with the dispersion of the Jews from their homeland, Luke saw Judaism and its movements (i.e., those who tried to keep John's ministry alive) on the wane. At the same time, Christianity was gaining strength in numbers. A time that honored the unchanging was undergoing massive change.


What Christian tradition is important to you? How can you receive new insights about this tradition? How can you use this tradition to enlighten a new situation?


As we enter this new millennium, our culture of ever faster change cries out for stability. But we cannot resist the change. Our challenge is to act like Elizabeth; in wisdom, we are to embrace the good of the change and act as bridges of the new. Yet, we are to be like Mary and bring Christ into an insecure world that needs faith.


The difference between liberal and conservative should not be a matter of labels. It should be a matter of wisdom. What should we seek to liberate? What should we seek to conserve? How can you use wisdom this week to make judgements about the new and the old? As this year ends, what do you need to conserve in the spiritual realm? What do you need to renew?