Elizabeth Was Filled With The Holy Spirit
Advent 4 Year C
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Luke 1: 39 — 45
The first reading in Advent turned our attention to the victorious return of the Lord at the close of time. We then looked at what is required for us to allow Him to enter unhindered into our daily life: the inner hearing and inner seeing which must be developed through prayer and repentance.
Now in this fourth reading we focus on a powerful event, which occurred some months before Jesus was born. In fact it was one of the most momentous occasions in all of Sacred Scripture, yet strangely, generally unknown to Christians. It is time to get ready for celebrating our Lord’s coming as an infant.
Before we look at our reading, let’s remember the moment when Mary was first informed, by an angel, that she would bear the “Son of The Most High”. In her beautiful honesty and simplicity she asks: “But how can this come about? I am not married.” The angel replies, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
No doubt the awesome vision of a great powerful presence overshadowing someone will remind us of another coming in the Old Testament: the Coming of Torah — the Word, the Commandments, the Teaching, at Sinai.
“Moses went up the mountain. Then the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mt. Sinai. The cloud covered it for six days, and on the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud.” (Exodus 24: 15 ― 16.)
In our reading which follows a little after Mary’s overshadowing, St Luke describes the Coming of the Holy Spirit upon Elizabeth, in words reminiscent of the resting of God’s glory in the Tabernacle, where God’s Word, written on tablets of stone, resided. (Exodus 40: 3.). The two signs of the Holy Spirit’s Presence are beautifully related and deserve our frequent meditation.
Events are certainly unfolding, as they have been prophesied. Let us remember that they are the fulfilment of prophecy not just because they are happening, but because the Holy Spirit is guiding them towards an undreamed-of culmination.
Some Reflections on Our Text
During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country
in haste to a town of Judah,
Having been told by the angel (in verse 36) that her cousin was also going to have a baby, Mary takes the initiative and the hint from the angel, and prepares to visit Elizabeth 100 miles away. At a human level, we can imagine the concern she may have felt for her cousin who was thought to be beyond childbearing. She goes to help but also to seek advice and comfort.
We note that Mary hurried off ‘in haste‘. It would be easy to gloss over this significant term. In the Hebrew context of the event we are considering, this word has been chosen by St. Luke to show Mary responding with great sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s intimations, in keeping with the examples of Abraham and the prophets:
Genesis 18: 6 “And Abraham hastened ..… .”
As the great Jewish teacher Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzatto has written ..… this teaches us that all the deeds of the righteous are done quickly. As the Prophet Hosea says (Hosea 6: 3):
“And let us know ― let us run to know God“.
where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
Upon arriving Mary goes straight into the house and calls out to Elizabeth.
At the sound of Mary’s greeting, “the baby leaped in Elizabeth’s
womb”. Though yet unborn, the baby is the first to give witness to
the presence of the coming Messiah, likewise residing in His
mother’s womb. The ancients considered this a reminder of
Rebekah’s children (Gen 25: 22) and David’s dance before the
Ark (2 Sam 6: 16), as well as other references.
And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. John is confirmed in
his mother’s womb in preparation for a special witness and ministry.
Verses 41 ― 42
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her
womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among
women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
Filled with the Spirit, Elizabeth calls out, in a loud voice ..… , pre-empting the strong and powerful speech which will be a gift her son will use in God’s work. Again we hear echoes of Messianic fulfilment. Elizabeth is truly thrilled by the Spirit’s unexpected and magnificent revelation. She is literally inspired by the Breath of God to call out, “Blessed are you among women ..… .” This is in fact a Hebrew way of saying, “Blessed are you above all other women.” Indeed a benediction of great honour.
“And blessed is the child you will bear”. St. Luke is emphatic in the way he records this proclamation, for although Jesus was begotten by the Holy Spirit, according to his human nature, he was truly born of the flesh and blood of Mary, and is therefore truly human. There is a lot to ponder in this great truth.
And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord
should come to me?
Elizabeth, through the supernatural enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, recognises in Mary the mother of the promised Redeemer. She calls Him “my Lord,” probably not understanding what this will mean.
Norval Geldenhuys has written:
“In her salutation and beatification of Mary, Elizabeth is so inspired
that we unmistakably hear the sounds of a hymn in these words.
Thus she is the first songstress of the dawning new era.”
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
In humility Elizabeth reports to Mary what had happened. She is given the gift of inspired utterance.
So the One over whom the Holy Spirit rested (1: 31 — 33) as at Sinai, now even before birth, blesses John the Baptist with the gift of the Spirit of joy. John will need this strengthening for his long and very demanding apprenticeship in the desert.
Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by
the Lord would be fulfilled.”
The occasion closes with another benediction: Twice Elizabeth has declared Mary “blessed”.
Our short passage is bursting with echoes of prophecy related to the birth of Jesus as the long awaited Messiah. (As an Advent prayer you may like to pray Mary’s hymn — a meditation of 25 Old Testament prophecies which follows our text in verses 46 — 55.)
Yet the foundation is also being laid for when Jesus would begin His ministry. We have just witnessed how the one who is going to prepare the way for Him, is himself, before birth, filled with the Holy Spirit. He is now ready to begin his long period of preparation from boyhood, and is strengthened to remain absolutely true to his calling until his mindless execution.
Shall we close our meditation by referring back to the first verse of our short passage (verse 39).
“It is normal that anyone who wishes to be believed should
establish his creditability. And so after announcing to the
Virgin Mary something that could not be seen, the Angel
cited an example to buttress her faith by showing that
whatever is pleasing to God is possible to Him: he told Mary
about her cousin’s having conceived a child although she
was an elderly woman, already sterile. As soon as the holy
Virgin has heard the Angel’s message, she arose and
journeyed through the hill country to visit her cousin. She
did not go out of a spirit of skepticism over the heavenly
oracle, or because of any uncertainty regarding the
messenger, or because she doubted her cousin’s pregnancy.
She went joyfully, as one goes to fulfill a vow; devoutly,
as pious persons perform a duty; swiftly, for her heart was
full of happiness. Where else should she hasten than to the
hills and heights, now that she was full of God? The grace
of the Holy Spirit does not undertake things sluggishly.
(From a sermon of St Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, A D 380)
“It is Mary who visits Elizabeth in a city of Judah, and not
Elizabeth who travels to Nazareth of Galilee. In Mary, the
New Testament reaches out to the Old, transforms it and
gives it its ultimate significance.” La Verdiere (1980)
Mary, Mother of the Messiah, therefore performs a very special role in the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. We shall discover just what this means as we progress through the Liturgical Year.
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Let us remember God’s Teaching contained in His Word and in
Elizabeth Was Filled With The Holy Spirit
Advent 4 Year C St. Luke 1: 39 — 45
1. What joy the Archangel Gabriel must have experienced in delivering the most unique message ever assigned to an angel. Mary is the quintessence in openness, humility, and compliance to God’s will. Her reply to St. Gabriel is repeated three times daily by many Christians in what is called the Angelus Prayer. Many such Christians uphold this practice to keep the great events it commemorates frequently in mind.
2. A short time after the Archangel’s visit, Mary set out ‘in haste’ for the home of her cousin Elizabeth. As Rabbi Moshe Luzzatto taught, “All the deeds of righteousness are done quickly”. As St. Ambrose taught, “The grace of the Holy Spirit does not undertake things sluggishly”.
3. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb. The yet-to-be-born John the Baptist was the first person to give witness to the presence of the yet unborn Messiah. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and her unborn child, also infused with the Holy Spirit, thus began his formation in preparation for his special witness and ministry.
Let us pray for one another that the example of these two great women will inspire us to obey the inspirations of the Holy Spirit joyfully, devotedly and swiftly.
Luke 1: 39 — 45
Advent 4 Year C
39 During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill
40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted
41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped
42 cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you
43 And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my
44 For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached
45 Blessed are you who believed 15 that what was spoken
14  Even before his birth, Jesus is identified in Luke as the Lord.
15  Blessed are you who believed: Luke portrays Mary as a believer whose faith stands in contrast to the disbelief of Zechariah (⇒ Luke 1:20). Mary’s role as believer in the infancy narrative should be seen in connection with the explicit mention of her presence among “those who believed” after the resurrection at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles (⇒ Acts 1:14).
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised