Joy to the World

"Now at this time Mary arose and went with haste to the hill country, to the city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias, and greeted Elizabeth. And it came about that when Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out loud with a loud voice, 'Blessed among women are you, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.' And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy, and blessed is she who believed that there would be of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.' " Luke 1:39-45

During both of her pregnancies, Dana read the Bible and sang songs of praise to our two daughters for the entire nine months that she carried them. She was convinced that they could hear more than we could possibly know, and she wanted them to be prepared for a life of The Word and worship. Elizabeth would have agreed with her 100%. For people who are convinced a child does not have a life before it leaves the womb, the words of Elizabeth are sobering indeed. She was convinced that the child within her was not just kicking as a result of being startled. She believed her child, John the Baptist, was leaping for joy at the sound of Mary's greeting. When God is up to something great, He loves to start with a child.

Mary and Elizabeth were two very remarkable women. Neither one was highly educated, or gifted with worldly wealth. The world in which they lived did not think very highly of them or their gender. A righteous Jewish man would thank God every day that he was born a Jew, not a Gentile, and born a man, not a woman. What made these women so different from all the rest? The clue is found in the statement, "Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit."

The Holy Spirit was not a new comer to the dynamics of Scripture revelation. The Spirit of God revealed Himself throughout the Old Testament record. However, the pre-Pentecost work of the Spirit was exhibited by falling upon or filling a specific person, for a specific task, for a specific period of time. The Holy Spirit was not going to dwell forever in the heart of a believer until after His manifestation on the Day of Pentecost. The words of Jesus tell us as much.

"And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever." John 14:16

When Elizabeth speaks with authority, 'Blessed among women are you, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!', she was overflowing with an insight and wisdom that was directly from the Spirit's Presence in her life. Again the words of Jesus provide a mission statement for the Spirit's work.

"But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you, but if I go, I will send Him to you...But when He, the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak and He will disclose to you what is to come. He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you." John 16:7-15

Where did Elizabeth gain the knowledge of what God was up to? She got it from God's Helper, The Holy Spirit. She apparently had not been in personal contact with Mary, and had no way of knowing what was going on in her life without a word from God on the matter. When she exclaimed the following words, she was experiencing the shock and awe of a movement of God in her life, as well of a leap of joy from the child in her womb.

"And how has it happened to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?...And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord." Luke 1:42-45

What can we learn from the child? A leap for joy should be a spontaneous and childlike response to the word of faith being spoken into our lives. Joy has been described as an overwhelming confidence in the One we know in spite of being faced much we do not know. It is received by maintaining a proper priority in vital relationships: Jesus Others You.

When Mary arrived at the home of Elizabeth, the sound of her voice carried a note of joy and the air of expectancy. She was not coming to Elizabeth to cry on her shoulder and play the victim. She was coming into her home with a message of hope. God was at work in her life in a remarkable way, and she couldn't wait to share the good news. Mary was betting the farm that she was going to be a part of a great harvest. I want to be like her when I grow up.

For three years, I was privileged to serve on staff of Dr. John Bisagno. He pastored Houston's First Baptist Church for thirty years. He has been an example of faith and spontaneous joy to me for as long as I have known him. He accepted the call to the downtown First Baptist Church after the previous pastor had held a press conference announcing the death of the church. It had been on a decline for decades, but God used Bro. John to rally God's people and do a remarkable work in that city. One day I was able to ask him, when did he sense the turnaround of the church was on track and that it was going to gain momentum. He shared with me that for a period of time the work was up and down, and resistant to many of the efforts and strategies that he had implemented. He reflected that one Sunday morning God moved in a special way. There was an anointing of the Spirit on every aspect of the service. People lingered and did not want to go home. When he returned for the evening worship hour, he said he walked into the old auditorium and he sensed it. I asked him what he meant by "it." He responded, "Expectancy." He explained that the people had become convinced that God was moving in their midst and they were excited to be a part of it. In his words, "The room was electric." There was a joyous expectation of what God was going to do next. I believe this is what Mary brought with her to the home of Elizabeth. She sensed in her heart that God was moving beyond the borders of her life, and she wanted the joy in her heart to hit the beach of someone she loved. The two women came together with the Holy Spirit in a synergistic expression of joy, and the child with Elizabeth was impacted by their response to God's work in their lives.

What else do we learn from the mothers? Elizabeth said of Mary,

"Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord." Luke 1:45

These two ladies were women of faith. Mary was not a passive participant in this movement of God. She enthusiastically put her trust in what God's messenger had told her, and she was convinced that she would see the promises fulfilled in her life. Believe is a word of action, not just an intellectual exercise. Elizabeth honored her faith and exhorted and encouraged the faith Mary was placing in the Word of God. That attribute makes her a model worthy of emulating.

Most Christians are able to rise to the occasion when calamity strikes a friend or acquaintance. The visits to the hospital are made. The prayers are lifted up. The casserole dish is delivered to the home. The cards are sent. The checks are written to offer assistance through the crisis. All these things are good, but they fall short of the response Elizabeth made to the good news she received from Mary. The real sign of maturity in a Christ follower is the ability to rejoice with another person. When the blessing of God seems to falling in greater measure on someone else, it is sometimes difficult to be filled with joy for them. The seed of envy always yields bitter fruit, and sour grapes produces a juice that can set a person's teeth on edge. God wants His children to have sweet communion around the Lord's Supper table, even when it appears He is blessing one more than the other. Elizabeth found it in her heart to rejoice at the blessings that were being poured out on someone else.

As you approach this Christmas season, make sure that the Spirit within you is allowed to jump for joy at what God is doing in the life of someone else. If Jesus is the reason for the season, then it means His birthday is not all about you and yours. It is all about Him and His. After all, Jesus never told us to celebrate His birthday, but His death, burial and resurrection. Now that is worth lifting a glass, and toasting, "Joy to the World!" Now, where did I put that Welch's Grape Juice?

What were you thinking?