At Christmas time we all hear many different lessons on the meaning of Christmas. Many times these lessons come from everyday life and have no basis in the Bible. But sometimes we learn things about Christmas straight from the Word of God. Recently I had such an experience.
In Luke, an angel by the name of Gabriel appears to the father of John the Baptist to tell him that he and his wife would have a son—John. John would be the one that would be the forerunner of the Messiah. Later, the same angel appears to Mary to tell her that she would give birth to the Messiah Himself.
Both women were unlikely recipients of such blessings. Neither had any business giving birth to any children at all. Elisabeth, the mother of John, was old and had never been able to have children. Mary was going to give birth as a virgin.
Elisabeth was already six months pregnant when the angel told Mary this news. He told her that Elisabeth was pregnant as well, and when Mary found out, she went to visit her. This visit is recorded in Luke 1:39-45.
The Catholic Church places a lot of emphasis on Mary in regards to this meeting. When Elisabeth sees Mary she tells Mary that she is blessed among women (v. 42). Elisabeth calls her blessed a second time (v. 45). These words form part of prayers that Catholics today still use in praying to Mary.
Elisabeth also refers to her visitor as the “mother of my Lord.” The Catholic used these words by Elisabeth to refer to Mary as the Mother of God.
Certainly in Luke 1 Mary comes across as a righteous person. She believes what Gabriel says to her even though it was humanly impossible. When she found out that Elisabeth was pregnant she immediately travels to Elisabeth’s home. This was the case even though it was a difficult four-day journey (v. 39).
It would be easy, as some have done, to make Mary the focal point of this encounter between these two women. But that is a serious error.
Both Mary and Elisabeth are unworthy recipients of God’s grace in this story. Both are women, who were not honored in that society. Neither was rich. Both came from insignificant places. Mary came from Nazareth, a city with a bad reputation among the Jews. We don’t even know where Elisabeth lived. Luke only refers to it as “a city” (v. 39).
Both bore a societal negative stigma. Elisabeth was a barren woman in a world that saw that as a curse from God. Mary was an unmarried woman who found herself pregnant. Later, a Jewish story arose that her pregnancy was the result of a union with a Roman soldier.
Yet, God uses these two women as major actors in His plan of salvation. One would give birth to the greatest prophet that had ever lived up until that time. The other would give birth to the King of God’s eternal Kingdom.
Elisabeth is the first human in the Gospel of Luke to proclaim that Jesus is the Messiah (v. 43). Her statement that Mary is blessed is not based upon Mary’s character. She is blessed because of the One in her womb (v. 42). She is blessed because God is using her to accomplish what God has promised (v.45). She recognizes all of these things because the Holy Spirit filled her (v. 41). The Holy Spirit points people to, and exalts, Jesus Christ.
The bottom line of all of this is that God can use the weak things of this world to accomplish great things. Insignificant people can be witnesses for Christ through the power of the Spirit. Mary is not the focal point of Christmas in any way. Christ is.
Certainly we can look at the examples of Mary and Elisabeth and learn from example. As believers in Jesus Christ, we have the Holy Spirit within us. Through His presence we can be used by God to bear witness of Christ. That is true regardless of our status in society. As Mary and Elisabeth believed and bore witness of what God was doing in their lives because of Christ, we can do the same thing. They were witnesses of His first coming. We can be witnesses of His soon Second Coming.