In the Old Testament, 2 Samuel 6 tells of the bringing of the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. If you recall, the Ark was the instrument by which God promised to dwell with His people. Inside the Ark were the tablets of the Law and above the Ark was the mercy seat where the Lord had promised that His glory would dwell.
In 2 Samuel, the people are bringing the Ark into the city of Jerusalem. Everyone is rejoicing. But then the cart on which the Ark had been placed stumbled, and Uzzah reached out his hand to touch the Ark and was struck dead by God, for the Ark was supposed to be untouched by man. So, the Ark sat was diverted to the house of Obed-edom for three months, and the Lord blessed everyone in its presence, until David tried again to bring the Ark into the city.
On the second attempt, David was able to bring the Ark into Jerusalem. And he “danced before the Lord with all his might,” he was so happy that the presence of the Lord had come to him. And then he placed the Ark in the place he had prepared for it. But, his wife Michal was upset, because she thought David had made a fool of himself before everyone, especially the servants. In response, David said, “I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in your eyes. But by the female servants of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor.”
Now, in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 1:39-56), we see someone else leaping for joy at the coming of the Lord to him. The Virgin Mary, who had been told by the Lord to go see her cousin Elizabeth, is greeted by her cousin, who has the baby John the Baptist within her womb. Elizabeth is excited, as is her baby. She says to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
The early New Testament Church declared Mary to be the “Theotokos,” which means “God-bearer.” It was officially adopted at the third ecumenical council at Ephesus in 431 AD, but had been used prior to that. The title says as much about Jesus as it does about Mary, actually. What it is upholding is the truth that Jesus Christ is both fully human and fully divine; that he is one person with both complete natures. So, when Mary comes to visit Elizabeth, Mary has within her the very Second Person of the Trinity incarnate. In some glorious, mysterious fashion, the eternal, infinite Word of God became flesh and will be born of a Virgin.
It is for this reason also that many see parallels between Mary in the New Testament and the Ark in the Old. Both contain the glory of God. Both were to be untouched by man. Both cause rejoicing when they come into another’s presence. And indeed, Mary said to the angel who announced that she would bear God within her: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Jesus, the descendant of David, truly did “make himself yet more contemptible” in the eyes of a fallen world, yet was held in honor by his female servant Mary. And, indeed, Mary will ultimately go to the place prepared for her by this king of David who she bore.
And so Mary rejoices as well. She rejoiced when the angel announced all this to her earlier in Luke’s Gospel. And she rejoices at the words of Elizabeth and the leaping of John. Mary’s heart sings:
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.
Mary proclaims the coming justice and mercy of the Lord through this baby which she bears within her. He is the seed of the woman which God promised as the Savior in Genesis 3:15; and she is the woman through whom this promised seed is now coming into the world. Eve disobeyed and disbelieved God; Eve thought that Cain was the Savior; Eve thought that she was the woman who would bear the Lord into the world. However, now we see the true fulfillment as God’s promise in Genesis is about to reach fruition through the woman who obeyed the Lord, believed His word, and whose very soul would one day be pierced as she watches her son and Savior hang on the cross for the fallen world which rejected Him.
In just two short days of liturgical time, this Savior will be born into the world on that first Christmas night. He is the one to whom generation upon generation of faithful looked to, and continue to look to, for salvation: the promised seed of the woman, come to crush the head of the serpent. His humiliation consists not in coming in the flesh, for God created us in His image in the beginning. Indeed, Christ has sanctified our bodies, first through the womb of Mary and his own incarnation, and ultimately by the fact that he is restoring us to the image of God in which we were originally created. No, Christ’s humiliation is not the incarnation, but rather his death on the cross when the Creator of all things is mocked and killed for the salvation of His creation.
So, we rejoice at the incarnation, because we mourn at what this present fallen world has within it: sin, decay, hurt, pain, sorrow, death. We rejoice because Christ came into this world to remove these things. We rejoice because he himself has undergone these trials, while remaining perfect; but, he knows personally what we go through. We rejoice because he has defeated these evils. We rejoice that he is returning to completely restore us and all creation to the perfection in which he originally created it. We rejoice, even through our present tears of the labor pains, because we know what is in store for us. Amen.
(Image: Mary Writing the Magnificat, By Marie Ellenrieder, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=860264)