Luke 1:39 - Exegesis & Sermon for Preaching Class
39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be* a ful- filment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’ 46 And Mary* said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’ 56 And Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home.
- Select the text: Text assigned by instructor (Luke 1:39-56). My tradition is to use the lectionary.
- Reconsider where the text begins and ends: The Magnificat was added to the original passage at the request of several students. The passage begins with "in those days" marking it as transition point. Probably need to cut down the passage some.
- Establish a reliable translation of the text: I will work comparatively with the NRSV, the King James, and the West Saxon Gospels in Old English. This is to focus on the development of the text in the English language (based on the conviction that our theology is shaped first and foremost by the way our native language is constructed and developed).
- Read the text for basic understanding:
- Place the text in its larger contexts:
- Listen atentively to the text (Brainstorming):
- Explore the text historically:
- Explore the literary character of the text:
- Explore the text theologically:
- Check the text in the commentaries:
- State the claim of the text upon the hearers:
I know a thing or two about pregnancy.
As a father of two children, I've done this pregnancy thing twice now. Or, at least, that's how I intended to start this sermon until my beloved wife, peering over my shoulder, gently corrected me and said, “You did it? You? Which is actually kind of ironic, because I also remember that the first time I announced to a friend, “my wife is pregnant,” she gently corrected me and said, “No honey, we're pregnant.” We're expecting. We're in this together. I didn't get this way by myself, you know?. Nine months later, it was “I gave birth to this child.”
So yeah, pregnancy and childbirth are kind of a big deal.
The Old Testament has plenty of pregnancy stories, from men and women desperately praying for a pregnancy, to miraculous old-age pregnancies, and my favorite, the great baby-bearing showdown between Leah, Rachel, and their respective handmaids.
Pregnancy has always been kind of a big deal.
Fast forward to our passage today: Here we have two women who shouldn't be pregnant. One who wanted nothing more, and finally got her wish, but quite late in life—and the other, who had zero expectation of...expecting...at least not this soon; certainly not this way. One has cause for great joy—one has potential for public shame. And yet the child of the Priest's wife, the respected pillar of the community (she's been a good girl her whole life, and she even married a pastor!)—Her son? He'll be eating grasshoppers and honey out in the desert, screaming at people to repent, looking like his mother never taught him to bathe. And even though it's an honorable job in the Kingdom, (he'll make it into a few renaissance paintings) he'll still play second fiddle to the child of the carpenter's wife...if the carpenter doesn't put her out on the street, that is.
The pregnant teenager. The mother of the Messiah. Way to steal my thunder, cousin Mary. Way to take my big event—my miracle—this thing I've been waiting for for all my life (do you even know how long a lifetime is?) and make it seem...well....easy. Cheap. If she gets a Messiah...mine better be a damned Holy Roman Emperor. What? That doesn't sound like the Elizabeth you were expecting? Thank God for the Holy Spirit.
And the babe leaped in her womb.
If you go way back to the Old English, the translation says the babe “rejoiced” in her womb. I like that, because babies leap in the womb for lots of reasons. And they do somersaults, and karate chops, and drop kicks, and weird alien moves like they're about to break out. But baby John...rejoiced.
And who knows? Maybe that rejoicing was as much for Elizabeth's sake as it was for Jesus. Sometimes, when my kids smile, it breaks through my self-indulgent pity party and reminds me of my humanity. It reminds me that it's not all about me. Even if I am a pretty big deal.
So here comes Mary. She's kind of had a rough week.
Still just a child, having a child, and can you imagine how hard it would be to tell a fiance you barely know that you got knocked up by God Almighty? No really, that's what the Angel said. Ohhhh, the “angel,” says the fiance... I mean, I think that's what the angel said . . . It seemed real at the time. If no one believes me, maybe I am losing it. I can't go back to my parents. My marriage might be over before it even starts. I'm gonna have a baby . . . and I have no where to go. Why did this happen to me? No one believes me... I'm such a loser.
And Elizabeth looked up, and said: “You are blessed among women, Mary. And blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why did this happen to me, that my Lord's mother comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting...my child rejoiced in my womb. And blessed are you for believing that what the Lord said to you would be fulfilled.”
We hear a lot today about “unexpected pregnancies”...like Mary's. We hear a lot about “high expectations” too, especially here. There's even a popular series of books that everyone buys you for baby showers, and you end up with five copies, which you hold onto and re-wrap for the someone else's baby shower: The book is called “What to expect when you're expecting.” Somehow I don't think it would have helped Mary and Elizabeth much.
In fact, if there's a motif to the life and ministry of Jesus, it's more along the lines of “expect the unexpected.” I've always wondered how exactly one expects the unexpected, or if that's even possible? Jesus said to live our lives as though we expected him to come back at any moment...but then he said we wouldn't quite know when that was. Expect the Unexpected. We live our lives as best as we can while we wait. We help each other out in the meantime. Maybe that's what Elizabeth and Mary were practicing while they waited for Jesus.
Monty Python taught me that “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.” I'm not saying Jesus was like the Spanish Inquisition, but when they show up, usually it's not good. Even in a Monty Python sketch. And sometimes, those unexpected things are pretty hard...sometimes heartbreaking. Mary and Elizabeth probably learned to expect a lot of unexpected things . . . but your son's head on a platter, and your baby hanging from a cross . . . you can never expect something like that. Pregnancy is not without pain. In my own family, one of our pregnancies didn't make it.
That's still a pretty big deal...a pretty hard deal...for us.
Jesus doesn't always make everything ok, but he does always turn everything upside down and inside out. Hanging on a cross, he makes a friend: He offers a kind word to another guy who's had a pretty rough day, too. Jesus takes a cross, and turns it into an empty tomb. And just when we think we have everything figured out, on Easter Sunday when everybody is happy and Jesus is alive again and here with us and everything is gonna be alright, and....poof! He's gone again, and what do we do now?
Well...we wait. We help each other out.
We're expecting. Again.
Pregnancy is kind of a big deal for us.
And like Mary and Elizabeth, we Christians all know a thing or two about pregnancy.