When it comes to the biblical Christmas story, it covers almost three years of time. It begins with the miraculous conception with Mary and concludes with Herod attempting to kill Jesus by having all the male babies that were two years old and younger executed. Within that story you have several people, animals, and objects that God uses to tell the Christmas story.
If you have a nativity set in your house, like we do, it only includes a small part of the story. When you actually look at the cast of characters in the biblical Christmas story you have…
- Mary & Joseph
- Baby Jesus
- The angel Gabriel and a host of angels
- The shepherds
- The magi or wise men
- The stable
That’s the group that makes up the nativity scene. But the story also includes,
- The star
- A donkey
- An innkeeper
- Mary’s cousin Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah
- Baby John the Baptist
You also have places that play a role, like…
Each one of those people, places, and things represent and teach something important about the Christmas story.
For the next three weeks, I want to focus on a couple of people and events that are often overlooked in the Christmas story. Today, we are going to take a look at an encounter between Elizabeth who is pregnant with John the Baptist and Mary who is pregnant with Jesus. From this encounter we see some truths about God and ourselves we need to seriously consider. Let’s take a look at Luke 1:39-45.
A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town 40 where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. 41 At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. 43 Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? 44 When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.” (NLT)
What do we learn from this? I want you to see four important things about God.
The first thing we see is God compels. When you recognize that God has done something significant in your life it causes you to become focused and it puts a drive in your life. This is what happened to Mary.
Mary had just been told by the angel Gabriel she would become miraculously pregnant as a virgin. She will give birth to a son who will be called Jesus and the Son of the Most High and He will reign and His kingdom will never end (Luke 1:29-33). She believed everything the angel told her and as a result we are told in verse 39, A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town where Zechariah lived. Sometimes you need to be in a hurry when it comes to the things of God. Mary is going there to spend some time with her cousin Elizabeth. Mary is excited and believes Elizabeth will understand her and believe her because Elizabeth is a very spiritual woman who believed in God greatly.
But what I want you to notice from this is that when Mary heard God’s message and believed it, it compelled her to get moving with what she heard. It produced a chain reaction that did not involve procrastination or hesitation. This is how faith works. You receive God’s Word, you believe it, and then you do something with it or it causes you to do something. You don’t just sit on it.
Faith in God’s Word produces action. Paul tells the Thessalonians believers in 1 Thessalonians 1, “We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 3, NIV). If you say you believe God’s Word, then there should be some evidence of obedience to it and evidence of you being compelled and driven to do some things that are related to what God has said to you. God compels you, He drives you, and motivates you.
Another thing we see is that God encourages. Luke tells us in verse 40 that Mary entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. When we read that we are filtering the greeting through our culture. When you think of someone greeting someone you think of a handshake, hug, or some kind of statement like “Welcome to our home” or “It’s good to see you, come on in.” But the phrase entered the house and greeted does not mean that, it means so much more.
In New Testament times, to say that two people greeted one another meant they caught up on their personal lives with one another. So Mary comes in, puts her things away, and the two women start to talk and greet one another. Elizabeth begins to tell Mary about what God has done in her life and Mary tells Elizabeth what God has done in her life.
- Elizabeth tells Mary that Zechariah, her husband, was in the temple one day when an angel of the Lord appeared to him and told him his wife would become pregnant.
- Zechariah and Elizabeth were senior adults by this time and the days of getting pregnant were well over. For her to get pregnant would be a miracle, but she did get pregnant.
- She went on telling Mary about how the angel said they were to call the boy John and he will be great in the eyes of the Lord.
- Then she told Mary how the angel said that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth and God would use him to turn many people to God.
- Then she said something odd about her husband. Elizabeth told Mary that because Zechariah did not initially believe what the angel was saying that the angel removed Zechariah’s speech and hearing from him. He wouldn’t be able to talk until his son was born. He hasn’t spoken a word since (Luke 1:5-25). This would have been all part of their greeting one another.
- Then Mary begins to tell Elizabeth her story.
- Mary tells Elizabeth that the angel Gabriel appeared to her. She says the angel told her that she would conceive, even though she was a virgin and give birth to a son and that she would name Him Jesus.
- He would be called the Son of the Most High God. He would receive the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over Israel forever and His kingdom will never end.
- She then tells Elizabeth that she asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” She explains that the angel told her that the Holy Spirit would do a miracle within her and this baby would also be known as the Son of God.
- Then she says something like, “Then the angel mentions you and tells me that you had become pregnant in your old age and that you were already six months pregnant. The last thing the angel says to me is nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:26-37). All this and more would have been included in the greeting.
God was doing something in Mary’s life and God was doing something in Elizabeth’s life. What God was doing in each of their lives was connected. They needed each other. They needed to hear what God was doing in each other’s lives. As they shared their stories and as they believed their stories God was encouraging them through each other because no one was going to believe them at first.
The same is true for you and me. What God is doing in your life and what He is doing in my life is more connected than you realize. God is doing something in your life right now and God is doing something in the life of someone else right now that you haven’t even met yet, but your paths are going to cross and you are going to need each other. That’s how God works. That’s one way how God encourages His people.
Not only does God compel and God encourages, but God also fills. Somewhere in their greeting of one another and telling their stories something strange happened. As Mary was talking about the angel and about Jesus Luke tells us in verse 41, At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
We don’t know how much Elizabeth understood what was happening with baby John in the womb, but we are told that John leaped within her and that she was filled with the Holy Spirit. The phrase filled with the Holy Spirit is a Biblical expression describing the power of the Holy Spirit taking control and effecting service to God by word or action. Throughout the Bible you find over and over again where someone is filled with the Spirit then delivering a message from God (2 Samuel 23:2; 1:67-79; 2:27-32; Acts 2:4; 4:8-12; 2 Peter 1:21).
Elizabeth being filled with the Holy Spirit is about to deliver a message about God. They will be in her own words, but they are from God.
Let’s talk about what it means to be filled with the Spirit. To be filled with the Spirit means you are under the control or influence of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18, Galatians 5:19-21). Listen carefully, when you are filled with the Spirit it does not matter how bad, horrible, evil, sinful, dark, or unfair a situation is you will say and do things that are influenced by the Holy Spirit. You will produce things like love, joy, peace, patience and kindness. You will speak words of wisdom and insight based on God’s truth. This is what Elizabeth is about to do. She is about to speak wisdom and truth.
What have we seen so far? God compels you, God encourages you, and God fills you. Finally, God speaks. According to verse 42, after being filled with the Holy Spirit Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. 43 Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? 44 When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.” She literally shouted out the message God gave her, what followed were statements of praise. We don’t have time to unpack everything she said, but let me bring your attention to a few things. I want you to see blessings, honor and faith. Keep in mind, this is a supernatural event. If you try to approach this event logically rather than supernaturally, it will make no sense. Some things I want you to see.
When God speaks, He blesses. Remember, Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit when she says these things to Mary. One of the things Elizabeth says to Mary is “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed.” This does not mean Mary is the greatest woman of all time, but that she is blessed more than any woman who will ever live because she will carry and give birth to the Son of God. She has been blessed with the incredible privilege.
Now listen carefully, Mary needs to hear this, believe this, and receive this. Because at this point, she has not told Joseph, her fiancé, what has happened and it will be another three months before she tells him. When she does, Joseph is not going to believe her and will make the decision to leave her. At that moment, Mary is not going to feel blessed. What God tells you on the mountain top, you need to remember in the valley.
When God speaks, He reveals. Through Elizabeth’s declaration God revealed to Elizabeth that Jesus was her Lord. In verse 43 Elizabeth says, Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? Remember, Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit while she is saying this. It reveals two things about Elizabeth: she is humble and Jesus is her Lord. She sees more, understands more, and believes more than what the physical eye can see. When God speaks, He reveals.
When God speaks, He brings joy. Elizabeth says to Mary in verse 44, When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. What’s going on here? According to Luke 1:15, John “will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth” (NLT). Many see verse 44 where John, while still in his mother’s womb, jumped for joy as the time when he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Remember, this is a supernatural encounter between Elizabeth who is six months pregnant with John and Mary who is a few days pregnant with Jesus.
Even though John is still in the womb, here is where I want to be more like John. I want to hear what God has done and is doing and jump for joy about it. I want the things of God to be exciting to me. I want the works and actions of God to thrill me. I want to have a high interest in what God is up to. I want to be involved in what God is doing. When God speaks, I want to respond with joy.
When God speaks, He blesses. When God speaks, He reveals. When God speaks, He brings joy and when God speaks, He acts. God is not only a God of words, but a God of action. Elizabeth goes on to say in verse 45, You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said. The reason Mary is blessed and fortunate because she believed God would do what He told her. Mary had faith in what God had told her. Mary believed God’s promise. Because she believed she was blessed.
That’s how it works. God gives you a Word, a message, a promise. You believe it. This causes you to obey it. This produces blessings. When you take God’s Word and mix it with faith and obedience it always produces blessings. When God speaks, He acts.
Four questions to think about this week.
- What is God compelling you to do?
- How is God encouraging you and how is He encouraging others through you?
- Is God filling and controlling your life?
- What has God told you that brings you great joy?