Mary's Visit to Elizabeth and Return to Joseph
From the devotional Walking with Jesus by Dave Glock:
Luke 1:29-56; Matthew 1:18-25
Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. . . . And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house. (Luke 1:39-41, 56)
Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:19-21)
The passage of time, though precise in measurement, varies enormously in emotional experience. Time can “fly” or it can “drag.” Mary decides to make a quick trip to visit Elizabeth, the only other woman on earth who could understand what God was doing. It was a trip of eighty to a hundred miles by foot, which was the means of transportation for the poor. It would take the best part of a week for the journey—but joy makes time fly, and with joy she anticipates being with Elizabeth. About three months later Mary is going to make the return trip to home, to Nazareth, to Joseph. What a long trip that would be! Would Joseph believe her? Dread makes time drag by.
It was the information Gabriel supplied to Mary that initiated the journey. Her relative Elizabeth was with child. The effort of the confirming journey was immediately rewarded. Upon entering the home, the babe in the womb of Elizabeth leapt for joy. The unborn forerunner salutes the unborn Messiah! Already John was bearing witness to the Messiah, initially to his mother. (Please notice the term “baby” used of a second trimester baby and the emotion of joy being expressed by that unborn baby.) It was a time of great joy in the home of Zacharias and Elizabeth and the unborn forerunner, for Mary and the unborn Messiah were with them. The ladies are exuberant—there is joy and rejoicing and loud cries and praise and blessings. What a godly celebration on their part. Zacharias, however, is silent.
But the response was more than godly emotion; it was full of equally exciting theology. Elizabeth speaks of the fulfillment of the word of the Lord. In the Magnificat, Mary recognizes God as her Savior as well as His holiness, mercy, omnipotence, sovereignty, and omniscience. Beyond all of this she claims the Abrahamic Covenant to be her own. She did indeed have a unique relationship to it:
Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. . . . What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. . . . But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (Galatians 3:16, 19; 4:4-5)
The fullness of time had come, and it focused on Mary and the coming birth of Jesus. For three months Mary remained with Elizabeth, who was to give birth shortly. Mary, now over three months pregnant, began her trip back home while travel was a healthy choice.
This return trip of equal distance would seem so much longer. No joy was anticipated at the end of this trip. How Mary must have prayed on the long walk. How she must have rehearsed her explanation to Joseph. How she must have anticipated Joseph’s response. How she must have weighed her future situation of life. How she must have feared the loss of her reputation. Sometimes it’s hard being the servant of the Lord. It took longer to get home! Upon meeting Joseph her worst fears are realized—divorce.
Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. (Matthew 1:19)
Engagement was binding according to the Jewish practice of that day and could be dissolved by divorce for immorality. Godly Joseph, a just man, would not tolerate the supposed immorality. Tender Joseph, a loving man, would then divorce her secretly. Mary was telling the truth, but Joseph would not believe her. Who could? She had left over three months ago, and now was returning when it would soon be obvious that she was with child. And now this fiction of a virgin conception, a baby to be born without a human father, a conception by the supernatural creative act of the Holy Spirit! Mary?
Mary was telling the truth as the handmaiden of the Lord. Joseph was acting in a truthful way as a just man. What mutual hurt was experienced by these two godly people as they submitted to the revelation of God—Mary from the words of the angel Gabriel, and Joseph from God’s written word.
Why did God do it this way? Could He not have sent two angels simultaneously, one to Mary and one to Joseph, with the wonderful and amazing news? He certainly has enough angels. Then this godly, happy, soon-to-be-married couple would not have had this emotionally devastating confrontation. Sometimes it’s hard being the servant of the Lord.
As always, God had a purpose in His actions. The supernatural act of conception within the womb of Mary broke the human connection with sin. Jesus could not say as His father David, “In sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). Hence, the virgin conception of Jesus protected Him from sin when He entered the sinful race of mankind.
For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. . . . For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens. (Hebrews 4:15; 7:26)
The virgin birth is, therefore, of great theological significance.
The human experience in the conflict of Mary and Joseph protects the miraculous conception of Jesus from being a myth that develops into a legend that becomes dogma. The virgin conception accounts for a Human without sin. The discord of Mary and Joseph accounts for the truthfulness of Mary’s explanation. She would not yield! He would not yield! Theology is reinforced by practice of life.
God intervenes to bring joy and reconciliation to the couple. In a dream, Mary’s explanation is confirmed to Joseph by an angel. I wonder if he looked like Gabriel.
Behold an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” . . . Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus (Matthew 1:20, 24-25).
Mary’s long journey home finally ended happily.