Lori Colbo loves to write about her Christian faith and the Bible to encourage and inspire others.
Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
— Luke 1:42-45, Elizabeth to Mary
The story of Mary's visit with Elizabeth has significant meaning. It's not just a sidebar to note in the overall story. Mary's extraordinary visit with her relative Elizabeth is the most celebratory and joyful story in the bible, only surpassed by the birth of her Son, Jesus. Both Elizabeth and Mary exalt the Lord in praise and adoration, in awe that Christ was to be born
Mary's Arduous Journey
Mary made many long journies in her life; with Joseph to Bethlehem, on to Egypt with baby Jesus in her arms, then back to Nazareth a few years later. Before all that, Mary made a long journey to visit Elizabeth. Gabriel told her that her older relative was pregnant. Mary made haste, Luke says, to leave. Elizabeth and her husband Zacharias, lived in the hill country of Judea, roughly a ninety-mile journey, uphill most of the way. It is believed that they lived in a small town called Ein Karem, almost five miles southwest of Jerusalem. Some estimates say she traveled 1,138 feet in elevation. The bible does not say if she went alone, or if Joseph or some other man, like a brother or father went with her, or possibly in a caravan as was common in that day. Regardless, the journey was fraught with dangers. Thugs in those days hid in hilly, mountainous areas where travelers made easy prey. The rugged terrain made it a harsh walk, or ride if on a donkey. It was probably a seven to ten day trip. Mary was now two or so months pregnant. She was young, healthy, able to make the journey. Perhaps morning sickness was mild or not an issue.
Why did Mary go on that rugged journey to see Elizabeth? Why did she go in haste? How do we connect the dots to the birth of Christ?
To understand it fully, we need to know Elizabeth and Zacharias' story prior to Mary's visit.
The Story of Zacharias and Elizabeth
In Luke 1: 5-23, we learn before Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel, he visited her relative Elizabeth's husband, Zacharias. They were getting on in years and past childbearing age. As it was, they'd never had children because Elizabeth was barren (Luke 1:7). Zacharias and Elizabeth were godly people and he served as a priest.
When Zacharias was chosen to burn incense in the sanctuary one day, the angel Gabriel appeared to him on the right hand of the altar of incense. Zacharias was terrified. Like he did with Mary, later on, Gabriel told him not to fear. Then he got down to his reason for being there.
"Do not be afraid, Zacharias because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John" (vs.13).
God does not forget our prayers, and he didn't forget the prayers that Zacharias had long since stopped praying, that prayer that he and his wife would have a child. Gabriel went on to tell him that little John would be great in the sight of God, and would be filled with the Holy Spirit while Elizabeth still carried the child in her womb.
"He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to make ready for the Lord a prepared people."
Zacharias didn't believe it. He said, "How can I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well along in years."
The angel was stern in his rebuke (vs. 19):
“I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings."
Gabriel identified himself and gave his credentials. To paraphrase, Gabriel said, "I am the angel Gabriel and God sent me to tell you this wonderful news and you are challenging me?"
When Mary asked, "How can this be since I have not known a man?" She was not rebuked. She was just trying to understand. Her question was valid. She was open to an answer. "A virgin birth? How is this going to happen? No virgin has ever given birth? Can you explain this to me?"
Zacharias was rebuked because his heart was closed to any answer. It was more than doubt; he refused to believe God could do what the angel said He would do. His eyes were focused on his frailty as an old man, unable to perform his husbandly duty, and Elizabeth's barrenness and age of menopause. He felt that Gabriel was expecting him to work the miracle against all odds. It hindered him from realizing this would be a supernatural event.
Gabriel shut Zacharias' mouth and it would remain that way until John was born.
Zacharias went home with his tail between his legs and unable to speak, but he had relations with his wife. That was his part. God's part was opening her womb.
Zacharias Faced Consequences for His Unbelief
Elizabeth's Joyous Recital
Elizabeth did indeed conceive. Luke 1:24-25 says, Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” Many commentators speculate on why Elizabeth hid herself for five months. Some say she wanted confirmation she was pregnant; that she didn't want to announce it until she showed. Because she had been barren all her years she had suffered the scorn of people because it was considered shameful to be barren. Now she was beyond childbearing years. She wanted to be sure. Others say she wanted to be alone with the Lord giving praise to Him for taking away her shame. Others say she was waiting for the Lord's timing of when Mary came.
When Mary left for Elizabeth's house, Elizabeth was six months pregnant. When she heard Mary's greeting little John leaped in her womb and she was filled with the Holy Spirit, just as the angel told Zacharias. Out came a memorable blessing on Mary and that of the Christ child Mary carried.
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
What an amazing avowal! She recognized that Mary was blessed because of the fruit of her womb! And that fruit was a blessed Child. In what way? She called the baby in Mary's womb "My Lord." It was confirmed when her own child leaped for joy in her womb. Then she said, "Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord." "She who believed" is Mary. The Holy Spirit gave Elizabeth the knowledge that Mary was spoken to by the Lord (through Gabriel), predicting her Son would be the Messiah. Elizabeth then said what Mary was told will be fulfilled with this Child.
This was an affirmation that Mary was indeed carrying the Messiah and all the prophecies of Him would come to pass. Imagine a baby (Elizabeth's) leaping for joy when Mary arrives with the Messiah in her womb. Decades later, John would declare Jesus as Messiah with his voice.
Remember that Gabriel told Mary, that her relative Elizabeth, who is barren and past childbearing age, is six months pregnant because "Nothing is impossible with God." Mary was told the incomprehensible about her own virgin pregnancy, and Gabriel wanted her to know that the impossible is also happening with Elizabeth's pregnancy. Mary was a virgin, Elizabeth was barren and past childbearing years. That's one reason Mary went in haste. She had to see this marvel. As soon as she got there, her own pregnancy was confirmed. Jesus was already in Mary's womb.
Mary took the focus off of herself and burst into a song of praise to the Lord.
The Song of Mary
Elizabeth's confirmation inspired Mary by the Holy Spirit to sing what I like to call the first Christmas carol. It is better known as the Magnificat. It is very reminiscent of Hannah's song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. Hannah had been barren and her heart was sorrowful. She poured out her anguish to the LORD and beseeched Him for a child with a pledge that she would give him back to God to serve all his life in the temple in Shiloah. God gave her a son and she sang a song of praise.
Now we hear Mary's song of rejoicing and praise to the LORD. As children of God, we know that song is one of the most powerful and joyful ways of worshiping our LORD. Here is her Magnificat:
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
Charles Spurgeon points out how personal Mary's song was: "Elizabeth is there, yet Mary sings as though she were all alone: 'My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.' It seemed as though her song meant something like this, “Elizabeth is glad, but I, Mary, also am glad, and I have a gladness which is all my own, which even Elizabeth cannot know. ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord.’”1
Mary magnified the Son in her womb, the LORD and God her Savior. It's hard to imagine what it was like for Mary to contemplate that. She was thrilled, thankful, overflowing with joy.
She was joyful that God considered her lowly estate. A humble, ordinary, country girl, Mary of Nazareth, full of faith had the privilege of carrying the Messiah in her womb. From then on, the generations would call her blessed. Not Divine, but blessed.
She gave thanks for the great things God had done and was doing in her life. "His name is holy," she sings. His name is set apart from all others, it's sacred, it's holy. It is the name above all names.
Paul would later proclaim:
"God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11).
Mary declared His mercy is on those who fear Him, now and forever, a truth stated throughout the Old Testament. Mary was raised in a Jewish home and obviously knew the word of God. She then focused on what God had done through the ages with His mighty arm. "He has scattered the proud in the imaginations of their hearts and has brought down mighty men from their thrones."
Her child Jesus, would one day assume the throne of David as the King of kings and Lord of lords.
And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
In this breathtaking song of Mary's we see her faith bursting and overflowing. As the LORD poured out His Spirit, her faith took on magnificent heights. She would face scandal and adversity when she returned home, facing Joseph, her family, and her community. But Mary lived out Psalm 3:5-6:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.
She didn't lean on her own limited understanding, she just trusted that God was faithful and never changes. And she could trust Him. Surely she anticipated that special day when the LORD fulfilled His promise - a Savior, born from virgin Mary. We can learn and be uplifted and strengthened by Mary's faith. May it ever be so.
1 The Spurgeon Library | Mary’s Magnificat. (n.d.). The Spurgeon Center. Retrieved December 4, 2021, from https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/marys-magnificat/#flipbook/
© 2021 Lori Colbo