In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowly state of his servant. Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name; indeed, his mercy is for 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 brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. He has come to the aid of his child Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
One of the most remarkable calling stories in the Scriptures, Mary’s encounter with the angel Gabriel stands out as one of the most important passages in Scripture. The Annunciation (as it’s called in many circles) is one of the first signs Israel received that their Messiah was coming into this world. Perhaps, not surprisingly, God chose to use one of the most unexpected vessels to accomplish his will–a teenage girl. Then, this passage ends with the Magnificat–Mary’s song of praise. She responds to God after learning that she would bear the Christ-child. Both parts of this passage (beginning and end) offer two-sides of an important narrative that illuminates God’s majestic plan for the redemption of the world.
In the middle of this passage, however, we find another important text that communicates so much about the nature of our world and the Holy Spirit’s presence in it. Aptly called the Visitation, the text shares a tender moment between Elizabeth, who is pregnant with John the Baptist, and her cousin Mary, who is now carrying the Messiah in her womb. When Mary entered the room and greeted her cousin, the baby inside of Elizabeth responded in an unusual way. The baby didn’t just move as would be typical for his gestation, but the little baptist leapt! (I like to imagine him like one of those Irish dancers that only kick their feet around, while the torso remains still). The baby sensed the presence of God incarnate.
And if that wasn’t enough, the passage continues to tell us that in John the Baptist’s leap, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. That means that something in the intensity of the joy that the baby felt transferred and spread the presence of the Spirit from John to his mother. Though I would never claim to understand how the Spirit moves, my imagination is piqued knowing that the joy of the Spirit in John was powerful enough to spread to Elizabeth. How much more might the Spirit spread through us, if we embrace the joy of our salvation?