The Mystery of Christmas: “The Baby Leapt in her Womb”
Rev. Sandy Johnson
December 13, 2015
Mystery is defined as “something difficult or impossible to understand or explain: the mysteries of outer space for example. In Christian Theology mystery is described as religious belief based on divine revelation, especially one regarded as beyond human understanding such as “the mystery of Christ””
There are mysteries in the world around us. Things that exist that we are hard pressed to explain. Things that are mysterious and beyond our imagination. Think about Stonehenge; that massive monument in England which scientists believe was built 4000 to 5000 years ago. It believed that it was constructed over a span of at least 1,500 years. To make a comparison it is believed the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt was built by 4,000 workers over the course of just twenty years. The Great Wall of China also took approximately twenty years.  It is hard to conceive of a project taking 1,500 years to build, isn’t it?
Expert Mike Pearson says that Stonehenge is an ancient burial site, others believe it was a Roman temple. The first academic effort to explain the site was made in 1640 by John Aubrey. He declared the work to be done by Druids, a class of educated, professional people, lawyers, doctors, and religious leaders, among other learned professions of Gaul, Britain and Ireland. In 1740 architect John Wood interpreted the space to be a monument of pagan ritual. Modern radiocarbon dating indicates the site to have been built between 3100 BC and the year 1600 BC. Stonehenge has been a pilgrimage site and there are some records of ancient healings, some believe the stones have magical qualities. If you are a fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series you might believe that time travel is possible at these ancient sites.
Next we have crop circles. They have appeared every week somewhere in the world, these strange circles and patterns that mysteriously appear overnight in local crops. Most of these circles have been found in the United Kingdom but they have spread to dozens of countries around the world.  Where do they come from and what do they mean? The first real crop circle appeared in the 1970’s, when simple circles appeared in the English countryside. During the 80-90’s the frequency escalated as did their complexity. The most sophisticated were those illustrating complex mathematical equations such as fractals.
Explanations about these mysterious circles range from the plausible to the absurd. “Some people have suggested that the circles are somehow created by incredibly localized and precise wind patterns, or by scientifically undetectable Earth energy fields and meridians called ley lines. Many who favor an extraterrestrial explanation claim that aliens physically make the patterns themselves from spaceships; others suggest that they do it using invisible energy beams from space, saving them the trip down here. Still others believe that it is humans, not extraterrestrial,” that are responsible, demonstrated by the thought and intelligence that is behind them. In 1991 two men confessed that they had been creating patterns for decades as a prank, an attempt to trick the public into thinking that UFOs had landed. But they did not claim to have made all of them and there are some that that still are unexplainable.
The last mysterious phenomenon I want to share are the Nazca Lines. These lines are mysterious geoglyphs that span miles in the Peruvian desert, forming geometric figures such as triangles and spirals, there are animals and wavy lines. “Since their discovery, they have inspired fantastic explanations, including that they were made by ancient gods, some believe they are landing strip for returning aliens, or a celestial calendar, created by the ancient Nazca civilization. It is estimated the lines were made between 200 BC and 600 AD. These lines, some think, may have been used for rituals probably related to astronomy.”
Recent researchers have approached them as you would a labyrinth and found them to be extremely spiritual. The hummingbird shown here is 310 feet long, there is a trapezoid which is 1250 feet long, the same height as the Empire State Building. These are not small in size, they are gargantuan. The total area of the lines is 190 square miles. Although there are dozens of theories as to why these lines were made, it remains a mystery to us today.
Mystery surrounds us every day and calls to us to accept some things as they present themselves, without fully understanding how it can be so. Our lesson this morning is one such mystery. Following her heavenly visit Mary set out immediately to visit her relative Elizabeth. I can imagine that she didn’t share her angelic visit with anyone. She needed to get to Elizabeth as quickly as possible to confirm the message she had received. Although we don’t know exactly, I would expect that Mary may have doubted that the experience she had was real. It isn’t every day that an angel appears and if it was me, I would have wanted to confirm or deny the story the angel told me. IF the story was true, IF Elizabeth in her old age was REALLY pregnant, then perhaps, just perhaps the message from the angel was true. Perhaps Mary really was pregnant by the Holy Spirit and would herself be a mother in nine months.
Mary lived in Nazareth which was a good nine days travel, eighty miles to Ein Karem where Elizabeth and Zechariah lived. Did she tell her mother and father that she had had a heavenly visitor? Did she tell them that the angel had told her, that Elizabeth was pregnant? Would they have believed her? Or had they received word that Elizabeth was expecting and Mary went to help with the pregnancy? Elizabeth had kept her pregnancy quiet for five months, this being the sixth month, she may have sent word to her family of the impossible news. Whatever the reason, Mary was allowed to travel nine days to be with Elizabeth. Mary was likely relieved to be on her way, knowing that Elizabeth was the only one who could confirm her experience. She longed for someone who might believe her and tell her she wasn’t losing her mind!
When Mary arrived in Ein Karem, she entered the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Immediately scripture says Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. The baby she is carrying was already filled with the Holy Spirit, we learned that a few weeks ago. We also know that this was not a common occurrence. Mary took one look at Elizabeth and knew that part of the story she had heard from the angel was true. Elizabeth was really pregnant.
Then Elizabeth speaks prophetically and confirmed the other part of Mary’s story. She tells Mary that she is blessed among women, she confirmed that she was pregnant with the Son of God. Was it possible that Elizabeth knew? Had the Holy Spirit told her? Make no mistake, Elizabeth knew that Mary was pregnant, but how?
“Imagine Mary’s feelings as she heard Elizabeth’s words. It had been at least ten days since Gabriel had appeared to Mary with his confusing announcement. She had spent the last nine days traveling with her secret, uncertain, afraid, and wondering how any of this could be true. But then, before she could even tell Elizabeth what had happened, Elizabeth showed that she knew Mary’s secret, and Elizabeth was filled with joy on Mary’s behalf. Elizabeth went on to say, in essence, “Listen, child. You don’t have to be afraid. You’ve been blessed. Blessed! Don’t you see it? You’ve been chosen to be the mother of the Messiah.”
Elizabeth then tells Mary that the baby in her womb leapt at hearing Mary’s voice. Did the baby growing inside of her really move in response to Mary’s voice? Studies have shown that babies before they are born can hear and recognize voices. When Calvin was born he was taken by the nurses over to be weighed and was crying and carrying on. I suggested to JJ that he go over and talk to him, maybe it would quiet him down. So JJ went to where Calvin was and began to speak to him and immediately he became quiet. Comforted by the voice of his father that he had heard often during his internment in the womb.
This baby of Elizabeth’s wouldn’t have heard Mary’s voice before. The recognition would be because of the Holy Spirit. The baby knew that the voice he heard was the voice of the Mother of God. And then Mary broke out into song. So overwhelmed with Elizabeth’s welcome and the knowledge that what the angel had told her was true. Overwhelmed with joy, she began to sing.
“My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
“Mary’s fear gave way to joy. She opened her mouth and began to praise God. Up to this point we have not heard joy from Mary, only submission to God’s will. But now she felt joy that she was going to have a child and, more than that, that her child would be the Messiah.”
What we can learn from this song about God is tremendous. Mary is a lowly young woman, from the wrong side of the tracks. She was a nobody. But to God she was somebody. She was chosen by God to birth the Son of Man. Her song puts to words what she was feeling – “that God favors and is merciful toward the humble and those who fear him. But he scatters the proud and pulls down the might from their thrones.” This theme of humility, of the first being last and the last being first, is one that as Christians we need to embrace. William Barclay calls it the “paradox of blessedness.” Mary was called blessed and yes, she was the mother of Jesus but she also had to endure a difficult life. First when the child was young and was threatened by Herod and the family had to flee to Egypt. She was witness to the attempts of others to destroy Jesus during his ministry and then had to witness the horrific torture and death of her son just thirty-three years later. Being blessed by God didn’t protect her from the horrors of life. “This was what blessedness looked like for Mary.”
Being blessed doesn’t insulate us from harm or horror, but being Blessed means we are marked by God as one of his people. “God’s blessings are not about ease or comfort, but rather about the joy of being a part of God’s work, being used by God for God’s purposes, and being accompanied by God’s presence, particularly in the face of adversity. That is the paradox of blessedness, and it is what we see when the young, pregnant, and unmarried Mary was told by Elizabeth that she was blessed.”
What a blessing Elizabeth and Mary are to one another. Each supporting the other in their most mysterious situations. During their time together they would help the other to deal with their pregnancies – Elizabeth in her last term, Mary in her first. Mary would need to speak to Joseph, and fast. What would he say? It was good that Mary had traveled to visit Elizabeth, Joseph lived only an hour away. Surely Elizabeth was there for Mary as she held that difficult conversation with Joseph. Thankfully God didn’t leave Joseph to come to the proper conclusion, but also sent Gabriel to explain things to him. We’ll save that for next week.
Let us pray: Gracious God, support us in our blessedness. Help each of us here this morning to find the joy in knowing that when we follow you; when we surrender our lives to your love and care that we will know joy in our blessedness; in spite of the trials we will endure. We know that with you by our side, there is nothing we can’t do. Thank you Jesus! Amen.
 http://www.bing.com/search?q=def+mystery&form=PRUSEN&mkt=en-us&refig=c0af77771bcf474589db434a878f0f53&pq=def+mystery&sc=8-11&sp=-1&qs=n&sk=&cvid=c0af77771bcf474589db434a878f0f53 Accessed December 12, 2015
 http://www.livescience.com/18589-cost-build-great-pyramid-today.html Accessed December 12, 2015
 http://www.activityvillage.co.uk/the-great-wall-of-china Accessed December 12, 2015
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Druid Accessed December 12, 2015
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theories_about_Stonehenge#Radiocarbon_dating Accessed December 12, 2015
 http://www.livescience.com/26540-crop-circles.html Accessed December 12, 2015
 Hamilton, Adam. The Journey. Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN. 2011. Page 66-67.
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