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 blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:41-42, 45 NRSV)
Elizabeth joins others in the great Advent story—Mary, Joseph, Simeon, Anna—who were open to the prompting of God’s Word and responded to it with joy. Mary sings the Magnificat; Simeon the song that has come to us as the Nunc Dimittis, all sung in praise of the God who has come to deliver God’s people. Miracles abound – a child will be born to a woman who is past child-bearing age; a Son to a virgin.
The Elizabeth story is in its way as miraculous as the Mary story. Here we have a man in the latter years of his life, receiving an announcement from an angel. He, a student of Torah with its example of Abraham and Sarah, should have known better than to have questioned the divine messenger. His punishment was to be struck speechless. Dietrich Bonhoeffer comments: “[Zechariah] was speechless, instead of being silent. Had he accepted the revelation, he may perhaps have come out of the temple not dumb but silent.”
And we have a woman who, as aforementioned, was past child-bearing age. But the child in her womb bore witness to the presence of the Lord as he “leaped for joy.” These were perhaps no earth-shattering miracles, no comets blazing in the sky, nothing like Owen Glendower’s claim: “The heavens were all on fire, the earth did tremble – ” in Shakespeare’s King Henry IV, Part 1. All was very low key—an old man struck dumb, an unborn child moving in the womb. And yet, the whole business was the most momentous event in history. And it was this woman’s deep faith and mystical sensitivity that bore witness to the coming of the Messiah.
We give you thanks, good Lord, for the example of your faithful servant, Elizabeth, whose spiritual insight led her, through the child in her womb, to recognize and bear witness to the world’s Redeemer. Enable us to profit by her example and look constantly for the small miracles that herald portentous events, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.