The Meeting of Mary and Elizabeth:
An Eschatological Encounter*
Robert L. Broline, Jr.
Luke's Gospel has been called "the most beautiful book in the world." Adolph von Harnack, who devoted a great deal of his time to studying Luke's style of writing, said that Luke was "a master of language."
Luke sets before his readers a beautiful and masterful account of the story of Christmas in verses 39-56 of chapter 1. Luke proleptically presents the Christmas storythe story of Christ's birth in these verses. The Christmas story is all about the birth of the Lord Jesus. It is about God, the Son, coming into the world and becoming flesh; becoming man, that he might save his people from their sin (Mt. 1:21). Traditionally and historically, for Christians, who believe and trust in the Lord Jesus, Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christborn of the Virgin Mary to be the Savior that he might save his people from their sins through his death upon the cross and resurrection from the dead. Historically, this is the church's understanding of the gospel, the Good News as it is presented in the Scriptures.
Most people are prone to connect the Christmas story solely to the account of Christ's birth found in Luke 2. However, we must not limit Luke's story of Christmas to chapter 2, because Luke does not wait until chapter 2 of his gospel to unfold the story of Christmas.
In fact, the meeting of Elizabeth and Mary in chapter 1 is included by Luke in order to prepare us for the actual event of the Savior's birth in chapter 2. Further, unlocking the significance and meaning of the story of Elizabeth and Mary's meeting unlocks the true significance and fullness of the story of Jesus' birth.
The world, if it has any regard at all for the Christmas story, regards the birth of Jesus as a mere symbol of peace, joy, and love toward one's fellow human being. In this way, God's purposes and intentions with regard to the redemption of his people in the Christmas event are ignoredso goes the world's perspective. On the other hand, the church of Jesus Christ recognizes and celebrates the story of Christ's birth in Luke chapter 2, not merely as a symbol of peace, joy, and love for one's fellow man, but as the great and definitive demonstration of God's love for his sinful people, and the peace and joy that he graciously pours out upon them in sending his only begotten Son to save them from their sins.
To understand and appreciate the redemptive significance and life-changing effect of this world-changing event put in motion by Christ's birth in chapter 2, one must understand and appreciate the redemptive-eschatological significance of Elizabeth and Mary's meeting. The meeting of Elizabeth and Mary in chapter 1 is included by Luke not only to prepare his readers for the specific event of the Savior's birth in chapter 2but this meeting also prepares the way for the Savior's entire life and ministry upon the earth.
The majority of the commentaries that I have reviewed readily admit that the meeting between Elizabeth and Mary serves as a bridge between: (1) the angelic birth announcements of John and Jesus (1:5-38); and (2) their actual arrival, as detailed in the subsequent birth narratives (1:57ff.). Further, most recognize the strong, deliberate parallels between John the Baptist and Jesus the Messiah as presented by Luke in these infancy narratives. Some even explicitly contend that the comparison is primarily meant by Luke to emphasize the superiority of Jesus and his ministry over John and his ministry.
However, none of the commentaries that I have reviewed have been willing to go any further in working out the theological and eschatological significance of these two figures. In this meeting between Elizabeth and Mary, we are not merely to behold the superiority of Jesus over John, but we come face to face with the vital relationship that exists between the Old Testament era and the New Testament era, between the era of the law and the era of the gospel, between old Israel and new Israel, as embodied in the figures of Elizabeth and Mary respectively.
Mary and Elizabeth's meeting serves as a bridge for these parallel figures and the respective biblical eras they represent. Elizabeth represents the Old Testament era while Mary represents the New Testament era. Thus, the meeting of these two women anticipates the eschatological transition from the old era to the new era as represented in the respective children that they carry in their wombs.
Luke is compelling his readers to move beyond the mere surface of things. In this meeting of Elizabeth and Mary, Luke wants his readers to see much more going on here than a couple of cousins getting together to share their enthusiasm about being pregnant.
The actual disposition of Luke is recognized only when it is observed that the intimate details concerning Mary and the Baptist and the other secondary figures of the story are set forth because they illumine the significance of the birth of Christ, and so contribute to the proclamation of the gospel. In particular, these historical details provide the occasion for a long series of inspired disclosures which cast a brilliant light upon the Child who was born in Bethlehem. There is, therefore, no disparagement of history. Luke clearly intends to provide a record of a series of actual happenings. His narrative is a record of events, and especially of one great event. That momentous event, around which everything else turns and to which everything else points, is the fact that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary in the town of Bethlehem. That event is set forth as a divine act. But if no further explanation were offered, it would be quite unintelligible. The cluster of divine revelation, which both precedes and follows the account of the birth of Jesus, serves, however, to expound the true significance of the divine action (Stonehouse, The Witness of Luke to Christ, 47).
Luke makes this generally plain in the prologue to his gospel (Luke 1:1-4). Luke's prologue functions not only as a preface for his gospel, but it also functions as preface to the book of Acts (Acts 1:1-2). In Acts, Luke describes his gospel narrative as "the first account" which was "about all that Jesus began to do and to teach" up to Christ's ascension into heaven. This explicit and direct statement wonderfully sums up the central content and scope of Luke's Gospel accountthe central content is the life of Jesus Christ, with the scope being from even before his birth up to his ascension into heaven (Acts 1:2). Finally, the way that Luke ends his gospel confirms his Christ-centered and Christ-exalting intention (24:25-47).
Knowing that this is Luke's intention (as expressed in his prologue and as confirmed at the close of his narrative and as emphasized in the parallel features within his account), Luke is compelling his readers to see the redemptive and eschatological significance of Elizabeth and Mary's meeting communicated in the actual details of their angelically arranged encounter.
The account of Mary's meeting with Elizabeth stretches from verse 39 to verse 56 and can be neatly divided into four episodes:
Mary's Journey and Greeting (vv. 39-40)
A. Mary's Journey (v. 39)
In verse 39, we have Mary's journey to Elizabeth: "Now at this time Mary arose and went with haste to the hill country, to a city of Judah" (v. 39). Mary, like her cousin Elizabeth, is a Jew. But Mary is of the tribe of Judah. And her husband Joseph is also a descendant of the tribe of Judah. They are both Israelites, they are both Jews, they are both of the tribe of Judah. Mary travels to meet Elizabeth "to the hill country, to a city of Judah." Mary's homeland is Judah, not Nazareth, which is to the north of Judah in the region of Galilee. Mary lived in the city of Nazarethoutside that specific territory in the Promised Land that God allotted to the tribe of Judah as their inheritance. Mary then journeys into the land of Judah from outside the land as if she herself is an alien or stranger to it. As one who lives outside the land of her (and Joseph's) inheritance, she is an alien, a stranger. Though Nazareth was within the bounds of the land of Canaan, as a whole she lived outside the specific territory allotted to her and Joseph as descendants of the tribe of Judah. In her corporate, representative identity, she reflects the identity of the people of God as a whole in this worldas aliens and strangers in this world.
There are various passages in the New Testament where God's people are described as aliens and strangers, or pilgrims in this world. For example, in Hebrews 11:8-10, Abraham is referred to as an "alien." But not only this, the writer specifically calls him an "alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land" (Heb. 11:9). Why does the author of Hebrews call Abraham an alien, a foreigner, while he is in the land of promise? In God's covenant with Abraham, God specifically tells Abraham to leave Ur of the Chaldeans and to go to the land of Canaanthe land of promise (Gen. 12:1-3). Was not God's promise in the covenant with Abraham that God would bring his covenant people into the land of promise, the land of Canaan? Was this not brought about after the time of Abraham, in the time of Moses and Joshua according to the Old Testament Scriptures? And did not God bring this about when he raised up his mediator Moses and delivered his people from their bondage to Pharaoh in Egypt across the Red Sea? And finally, did not God bring his people into the Promised Land itself through the leadership of Joshua, conquering the land and dividing it up among the tribes of Israel? But in Hebrews 11, the author says not the Promised Land, nor even the whole earth was ever the ultimate promise and goal of the covenant. The goal was never here. No earthly city was ever considered the ultimate destination. This is how the author of Hebrews can rightly say that Abraham, as well as Isaac and Jacob, were "aliens in the land of promise as in a foreign land" because they were looking for the city which was built by God himself; indeed, they desired a better country, that is a heavenly one! (Heb. 11:16).
But this designation of the people of God as aliens and strangers is not only applied to Old Testament believers, it is also used in reference to New Testament believers (1 Pet. 1:1; 2:9-11). New Testament believers are called "strangers and aliens" here because their true inheritance and home is above (1 Pet. 1:2-4).
Mary then, in her covenantal or corporate personality as an alien or stranger, represents the believer of the New Testament era. The New Testament believer's identity is found in Mary's alien identity as demonstrated in her journey from Galilee to Judah. The New Testament church is to see herself in Mary, as representative of the New Testament era. As such, the New Testament church has an alien identity and a stranger residence even while she dwells within the geographical bounds of this world.
Further, Mary's journey to Judah from Galilee is like unto Jesus coming into this world from the world above. Mary, the alien, enters the territory of Judah. She comes from outside of that territory and comes to the people who are truly her kinfolk. She remains for three months, and then she returns. Even so, in her journey, in her movement, she reflects the movement of the One she presently carries in her womb. He too comes from outside to his family as an alien, as an outsider. He too journeys. He too will come to his ownhis own family. Mary's journey and subsequent departure with Christ in her womb symbolically presents Christ's journey, and previews his departure. Her journey reveals Christ's journey as he comes into this world from outside itdown from heaven itself. And her departure from Judah back to Galilee previews Christ's departure back to the world aboveheavenupon his death, resurrection, and ascension.
This understanding and perspective on Mary's journey as a preview of Christ's journey is filled out and supported by Luke later in his gospel with respect to the well documented "journey of Christ" motif (from Galilee to Jerusalem). In his gospel account, Luke places great emphasis upon the journey of Christ from Galilee to Jerusalem. This "journey theme" is given special place and prominence in Luke's gospel compared to the other gospels. Lukein contrast to the other three gospelsdevotes almost ten chapters to this journey theme beginning in 9:51 and concluding upon his triumphant entry into Jerusalem in 19:28.
Now how does Christ's journey from Galilee to Jerusalem correspond to Mary's journey from Galilee to Judah, and back to Galilee? And how does it reflect Christ's movement from outside this world into this world and then his subsequent departure back to heaven? The answer is found in Luke chapter 9. The beginning point of Christ's journey toward Jerusalem (9:51) follows on the heels of the transfiguration of Christ on the mount (9:30-31).
In 9:30-31, Luke writes, "And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, who appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem." In the glorious transfiguration of Christ upon the mount, the three disciples are granted a preview of Christ's coming glory in the event of his resurrection from the dead. Further, the word "departure" literally means "exodus", and has reference to Christ's ascension back into heaven. And this he would accomplish by way of his death upon a cross. He came to his own and those who were not truly his own did not receive him. Hence in this way, Mary's journey into Judah from Galilee anticipates the journey of Christ coming into this world from the world above.
B. Mary's Greeting (v. 40)
In verse 40, having arrived at the home of Elizabeth and Zacharias, Mary greets Elizabeth. But to understand the proper entrance into what takes place in the meeting between these two women in all of its fullness and depth, we must first identify Elizabeth and consider her actions prior to this encounter with Mary.
Who is Elizabeth? She is a descendent of the priest-line of Aaron. She is the wife of a priest, Zacharias (1:5). And she is the mother of John the Baptist. But there is more to her and in her than merely her individual Jewish pedigree. In light of her individual personality and identity, who is Elizabeth in her corporate personality and identity? In other words, whom does she represent in the role that she serves in God's unfolding plan of redemption? In her corporate personality, Elizabeth is Israel. She is the Old Testament people of God as a whole. She is the nation of Israel as a whole. She is Israel positively considered, living proximate in Judah to God's promises to David within reach of and devoted to Jerusalem. As such, she is bound to her husband in the service that God has prescribed for his sanctuary in the temple. Elizabeth is an extension of her husband Zacharias. Elizabeth is Israel who along with Zacharias is described as righteous in the sight of God and walking blamelessly in all his commandments (Luke 1:6).
As positively as she is to be seen (and her husband) in relationship to Israel, at the same time, in her (and together with her husband) Luke also sets forth Israel's limitation and even Israel's corruption. Elizabeth like Israel is aged and barren. Elizabeth being bound to her husband is an extension of the Levitical order and also inclusive of Levitical unbeliefZacharias failed to believe the angel Gabriel's message to him (Luke 1:18). Elizabeth, like Israel, is stuck, despite her best intentions, in a bitter dissatisfaction over God's ways and means. This is demonstrated in her act of seclusion (1:24) and words of resentment (1:25). Marshall points out the controversy surrounding the meaning of these two verses as the epilogue to Elizabeth's conception by the divine interposition of God in keeping with his promise announced by his angel Gabriel (1:13). Marshall, along with the other commentators he cites, assumes that Elizabeth's response is one of genuine praise and thanksgiving to God (Marshall, 62). Assuming this interpretation to be correct, he then moves on to address her act of seclusion in verse 25:
However, none of the above explanations appear to be the proper reading of vv. 24-25 for two reasons. First, the text itself moves in the direction of understanding her action and words negatively. For example, her self-imposed seclusion or silence is best understood as an extension of Zacharias' imposed silence for his failure to believe the Angel's message (1:20). In this way, Elizabeth being bound to her husband represents Israel. Second, Luke's literary structuring of chapter one as a whole sets up a contrasta kind of before and after picture of Zacharias and Elizabeth. There is a chiasm in Luke 1 in which Luke takes his audience from Zacharias to Elizabeth to Mary; then from Mary back to Elizabeth back to Zacharias. Hence, Luke is contrasting Elizabeth's action and response (in vv. 24, 25) to her action and response in her encounter with Mary in vv. 40-45. Therefore, Elizabeth's response to God's action for this conception in her old age is to hide away in shame and then to exclaim in bitterness and resentment: "This is the way the Lord has dealt with me!"
Therefore, both Israel's best success and tragic failure are embodied symbolically in the figure of Elizabeth at the same time. Her best cannot save her. And her failure condemns her. But God works in her and for her, as God does for all Israel, and in her and for her, he establishes hope. By God's miraculous work, John is conceived in her womb. However, prior to her meeting with Mary and the child she has conceived in her womb, Elizabeth, like Israel itself during this time, is stuck, despite her best intentions, in a bitter dissatisfaction over God's ways and means as demonstrated in her act of seclusion (v. 24) and words of resentment (v. 25).
With these things in view concerning Elizabeth and what she represents, consider now the figure of Mary as she comes to Elizabeth's house and greets her. Whereas Elizabeth prefigures the Old Testament era as she awaits Mary's arrival, Mary in her arrival and greeting prefigures the coming of the New Testament era. The fact that Mary represents a new order appears to be underscored in her even physically. Mary is a virgin and she is young. This is in contrast to Elizabeth who is old. Mary will yet bear other children, while Elizabeth bears one child and no more. Mary carries within her the Son of God, and in her person she represents those bound to him, those in whom he comes to live in by his Spirit. In this way, if Elizabeth also represents old Israel, then in this encounter, Mary represents new Israelmatched up in her representative meaning with the New Testament church itself.
Mary greets Elizabeth. Mary, the alien, the outsider, enters into the house of Zacharias and greets her cousin Elizabeth. Zacharias is a priest and Elizabeth is of priestly descent (Luke 1:5). As a priest who serves in the temple, Zacharias is a servant of the law and the Old Testament era as a whole. As such, Zacharias and Elizabeth collectively represent the old administration. In Mary's greeting of Elizabeth is heard the greeting of the child within her. The Child himself, through Elizabeth, greets the child who is within her womb. Mary, with Jesus in her womb, embodies the new order. Mary represents the New Testament, while Elizabeth represents the Old Testament.
And in Mary's greeting of Elizabeth, Luke presents a picture of the compatibility of the new era with the old era as he matches up these two figures. In this meeting, we see the new order greeting the old order. Christ who represents and is to bring in the new order, the new administration, greets the old order, including Moses and the Prophets. Mary greets Elizabeth, her cousin, and the gospel greets the law. Jesus greets Moses, and it is a warm and friendly greeting. They are not hostile to one another; in fact, they are quite compatible cousins. Here in Elizabeth as representative of the old order, and Mary, the representative of the new order, Luke sets forth the positive relationship that exists between these two orders or eras.
Mary's Reception by Elizabeth (vv. 41-45)
In verses 41-45, Luke records Elizabeth's response to Mary's greetingMary's reception by Elizabeth. And in her welcome, Luke continues to set forth, the relationship between the old and new orders in the meeting of these two women. Elizabeth's response, her reception of Mary, is indeed a happy and friendly one. But even in her receptive and friendly response, Luke also presents a picture of the subordination of the old order to the new order. This is brought in two ways: (1) by what Elizabeth says to Mary here in these verses; and (2) by the action of the child in her womb and what he represents.
Elizabeth being filled with the Holy Spirit cries out loudly to Mary: "Blessed among women are you, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" In her happy welcome, Elizabeth blesses Mary not for her own sake, but specifically because of the Seed that she carries in her womb. Elizabeth expresses her humility and subordinates herself specifically to the One that Mary carries in her womb, and the new order that he carries with him. Both Mary and Elizabeth are to be seen as extensions of the respective children that they carry in their wombs. Luke tells us twice that the child in Elizabeth's womb, who is John the Baptist, leaped in her womb when Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting (vv. 41, 44).
John the Baptist was the greatest of the Old Testament era, of whom Jesus later said, "Among those born among women, there was no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he" (Luke 7:28). John was a son of a priestthe son of one who administered the old order of the law, and he was also a prophet. As such then, John the Baptist was the final embodiment of the law and the prophets. And as the embodiment of the law and the prophets, in his jumping action, John leaps out to their fulfillment in Christ and the new order that he is to bring. John leaps in joy at Christ's arrival! The old era joyfully welcomes the new era as that for which it has longed! John the Baptist leaps for joy at the coming of Jesus the Christ to himdisplayed beautifully and profoundly in the coming of Mary to Elizabeth. The old order leaps for joy at the coming of the Messiah and the new and superior order that he is going to usher in through his ministry. In this regard, consider the end of Luke's gospel. In Luke chapter 24, Jesus declares plainly and openly that the Old Testament is all about himthe Old Testament is merely preparation for the fulfillment to come with the coming of Christ into the world. The Old then as preparation, as promise, welcomes the New, as that for which it has longed for all along.
At the same time, however, in Elizabeth's welcome there is also an acknowledgment on her part that the old order is weak and helpless when left to itself. This is expressed in an indirect way by Elizabeth in her comment regarding Mary's faith in verse 45. In commending Mary's faith, Elizabeth makes a veiled reference to Zacharias. Zacharias is a priest, a servant and representative of the old order, whom Luke earlier described as pious and righteous before the Lord (Luke 1:6). Yet when the angel Gabriel comes to him, he fails to believe Gabriel's message (Luke 1:18). Note the contrast by Luke. Zacharias, the pious priest of Israel, fails to believe, but Mary, the lowly handmaid, does believe. He did not believe, but she did. She believed and submitted to the word of the Lord through Gabriel. Finally, the weakness of the old is further underscored in the barrenness of Zacharias and Elizabeththey could not produce a child on their own (Luke 1:7).
But this does not mean that when the new comes to the old that the old fails to welcome the new. In fact, the coming of Mary to Elizabeththe coming of the new to the oldresults in the transformation of the old by the new. When Mary comes to her and greets her, Elizabeth herself is transformed, and she bursts out in praise and thanksgiving. Mary's greeting elicits and gives rise to Elizabeth's praise and response in faith. Nothing less is in view here, other than Israel being led graciously to embrace the gospel. Elizabeth, left in herself, to herself, will not, cannot embrace the gospelas seen in her self-imposed seclusion (1:24) and her harbored bitterness (1:25). The change comes for her through Mary's greeting, and through the leap of the babe within her own womb, just as change will come later for many in Israel through John's preaching as the Forerunner in his announcement of the Messiah's arrival. The old is transformed with the coming of the new. Indeed it happily welcomes and gives way to the new order which Christ will eschatologically usher in by way of his death, resurrection and ascension into heaven (cf. Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:1-11).
Mary's Song (vv. 46-55)
In light of this happy reception and the transformation it brings, Mary now bursts out in song in verses 46-55the so-called "Magnificat". In this praise-filled outburst by Mary, the redemptive significance and world-changing character of Christ's anticipated advent now bursts upon the church. In case the church missed it in Mary's greeting and Elizabeth's welcome, Luke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, will not allow the church to miss it now. The redemptive significance and world changing impact of the event is the gospel, the Good News of Christ's coming into the world.
Now there are several things to note in this regard about the Song of Mary in these verses. For instance, Bible commentators have noted that as many as fifteen Old Testament texts are directly quoted or alluded to in this Song. We will make three other observations with respect to Mary's Song.
A. The Great Things God Has Done in History
First of all, Mary's personal confession and praise of God for what has happened to her gives confident expression that the great turning point in salvation history has been reached. She joyfully exalts the Lord and rejoices in "God my Savior" signaling the fact that the redemption longed for has come. And God has brought it in fulfillment of the covenant to Abraham and the fathers (vv. 54-55).
B. The Great Reversal in History
The second observation is that the song itself helps to unfold the full meaning and range of this great turning point in salvation history for the church. In this song, God's people are shown a new way, a new perspective on the inheritance and the blessings that they, as the covenant people of God, have longed for all along.
In reading verses 51-53 (as one looks around at the world and as the church who lives in this world), one would have to say, "I don't see these things spoken of as having actually taken place in history at all as Mary claims in her song. What mighty deeds? As I look at this world with respect to God's people, I don't see the proud being cast down and scattered. I don't see the wicked rulers brought down, and the humble exalted! I don't see the hungry filled with good things, the rich being sent away empty handed. What great turning point? I don't see it!"
However, in this song, Mary, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is not speaking about earthly blessings and an earthly inheritance. She is talking about heavenly blessings and a heavenly inheritance. She is singing about the true inheritance and blessings that come from above. And as Luke declares later, it will be by route of Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension that this will be made known and realized. For it is only in heaven that we see the proud and wicked cast down, the humble exalted, the hungry filled with good things, and the rich being sent away empty handed.
And in all this, we do see the superior character of the New Testament over the Old even as the Old gives way to and finds its fulfillment in the New! Nothing less than the coming of the Kingdom of God to be preached by Jesus is being described by Mary in her songand that in anticipation of its final consummate appearance.
In this regard, match up Mary's New Testament era song with Hannah's Old Testament era song (1 Sam. 2:1-10). The deliberate intention of the Holy Spirit in matching up these songs is demonstrated in the fact that there are four explicit citations of Hannah's song in Mary's song. First, both songs begin on the same note: "My soul magnifies the Lord." Second, both songs celebrate the redemptive, momentous event of the coming of the Kingdom. Hannah bursts out in praise to God in celebration of the coming of Kingdom in anticipation of the coming of David's reign. Mary bursts out in praise to God in celebration of the coming of the Kingdom in connection with the coming of Jesus' reign. Mary's song makes the connection and comparison in order to show the conclusive character of the coming of the Kingdom of God in the conclusive and definitive coming of Jesus, the Christ. The redemptive and eschatological significance of this comparison lies in this. As great as David was (as great as his son Solomon's reign would be) it was a mere shadow, provisional and temporary in comparison to the kingdom and reign of David's greater Son. Christ's kingdom and reign is the reality. His kingdom and reign is permanent and eternal.
Further, the far superior character of the new, and subordination of the old era to the new era is seen in the citations of Old Testament texts themselves. There are over thirty different citations and allusions from the law, the prophets and the writings. The whole of the Old Testament is not only fulfilled in the New Testamentbut is interpreted by the New Testament. The Old Testament final interpretation is found as it is subjected to the light of God's conclusive act in Jesus Christ, and in his gospel.
C. The Great Movement in Mary's Song
Having emphasized the subordination of the old to the new in Mary's song, her song (while representative of the new era's superiority over the old era) also simultaneously carries the tone, the color, and the language of the old era. The close relationship to Hannah's story and song and the thirty plus citations from the Old Testament evidence the servant-manner of the new even as it chooses to subordinate itself to the old. Hence, Jesus the embodiment of the new era becomes the servant to the old era that he might fulfill the old and save those in bondage (cf. 1 Cor. 9:20). In this way, Mary's song captures the theme of humility. Not only will the old subordinate itself to the new, but the new also humbles itself and subordinates itself to the old. This demonstrates the very humility of God himself. For God will humble himself for the sake of the redemption that he is accomplishing for his covenant people. God's humility shows itself within Mary's song. This is demonstrated in the development of the song from beginning to end.
For example, the names for the Lord at the beginning of the song will disappear, and instead, by the end, the names of Israel and Abraham appear. In this way, Mary in her song captures the condescension of God, where God seemingly moves out of the way for the sake of his people whom he intends to exalt. The Lord becomes the servant for his people. This humility of servanthood in God plays out and anticipates that which is seen in the incarnation itselfGod taking to himself human flesh to be born of a womanhumbling and humiliating himself that his people might be exalted with him in his resurrection and ascension into glory above.
Mary's song fulfills all the songs, hymns and psalms that have gone before it in the Old Testament. And at the same time, Mary's song looks forward in anticipation of the Song of the Lamb spoken of in the book of Revelation. "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing" (Rev. 5:12). This is the Song, the "New Song", that is being sung in Heaven by the Risen and Exalted Savior together with his redeemed people. And this is the song, the "New Song", that the saints here are singing with the saints in Heavenas saints here sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs making melody with the heart to the Lord Sabbath by Sabbath to exalt their God and Savior.
Mary's Stay and Departure (v. 56)
This brings us to the end of the meeting. Mary, who embodies the new order, stays to minister to Elizabeth (the embodiment of the old order) for three months. She then returns "home" to her "alien" earthly territorypointing to her true home. Three months, and then she leaves the territory of Judah in keeping with her alien identityJudah is not her true home. How long will Christ's ministry on earth last? Three years. Christ will minister to the old orderIsraelfor three years, and then he will return to his true home as he ascends to glory.
Luke preaches the whole gospel story in this meeting between Mary and Elizabeth. Luke preaches the great turning point of salvation history in this eschatological encounter, as well as the consummation to come in the return of the Lord Jesus. If the church is to stand alongside Mary in her faith, the church must also understand itself as aliens and strangers in this worldthose bound for another land. The law and gospel are not hostile to one anotherthey are mutually supportive. But the church must also acknowledge the new as superior to the old and must not hold improperly to the old as some in the church do. The church must see the gospel as being grounded in the death and resurrection of Jesus by which he provides a heavenly inheritance. In the meeting of these two women, Luke is telling the church to give the preeminence to Christ by being like Mary, willing to submit to Christ in all things as faithful servants of God's will. Thus the church continually confesses: "My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior." This is the new song of Christ's churchthe church that belongs to the eschatological era of the New Testament, inaugurated by Christ's redemptive worksinging in anticipation of his glorious return and the consummation of his kingdom with its abundance of heavenly blessings.
Immanuel Orthodox Presbyterian Church
*A revised version of an address delivered at the Summer Pastor's Institute, Northwest Theological Seminary, August 22, 2002. This address/article arises from the author's May 2000 S.T.M. dissertation submitted to the faculty of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.