Luther’s Notes on the Gospel: Visitation (July 2)

July 2
Luke 1:39-47
New King James Version
Mary Visits Elizabeth

39 Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 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. 42 Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

46 And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

Luther’s Explanatory Notes:

The visit of Mary to Elisabeth. This history is simple in appearance, be cause there is nothing more described in it than the action of Mary; namely, that she went to visit her cousin Elisabeth. But rightly considered, it includes nothing but

miracles of love. This is a very great miracle that the dear Virgin believed the words of the angel and by faith became the mother of God, and in this faith went to see her pregnant cousin Elisabeth. To this great miracle comes yet another, which is also a great miracle. Elisabeth did not know beforehand that Mary was with child; and yet when Mary comes to her she recognizes that she is with child. This is a great wonder, be cause Mary had been pregnant but a short time. But this is a still greater miracle, that she recognizes that Christ is in the womb of the Virgin, and the child John leaps in the womb when Elisabeth hears the salutation of Mary, and the Holy Ghost, with whom John is filled in the womb, goes forth from the babe and fills the mother also. By this the manner and nature of Christian faith is indicated, and that nature can never perceive an article of faith; the Holy Ghost alone must do this and work it in the heart.

By this the manner and nature of Christian faith is indicated, and that nature can never perceive an article of faith; the Holy Ghost alone must do this and work it in the heart.

The salutation of Mary to Elisabeth was doubtless after the manner of the Hebrew language, “Peace be with thee!” In this salutation the Gospel is really preached; namely, the for giveness of sins and peace of heart. When this word comes to one’s heart, if indeed there is a pious heart there, and a thirst for peace, then the Holy Ghost enters also; he makes the word strong in the heart, and teaches us to know Christ aright.

Luke seems to have taken special pleasure in this history, because he describes it so diligently, and depicts to us so beautifully, especially to the women folks, the dear Virgin, adorned with a wreath of three beautiful and lovely roses. For he praises three notable virtues, to which we should diligently attend. Where a woman or virgin has such an adorn ment, she far excels all queens and empresses in all their gold, jewels, pearls, velvets and silks.

The first virtue is faith. “Blessed art thou, who hast believed.” The second virtue is a very great and high one; namely, humility. The young maiden, although she is honored, is not proud, but humbleth herself like a pious child. It would not have been astonishing (as the women folks are prone to pride ) if she had also be come haughty. Yet she desires to serve the aged Elisabeth, and says, “God hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.” But here we must nevertheless also warn against a false humility, which we see in young maidens, who, when called beautiful, deny it, and yet they are not sincere. This is no humility, but a double pride, a conscious untruth, which also dishonors God. For what God has given, we should not deny. So Mary says: It is all true, “For he that is mighty hath done to me great things, and holy is his name.” But when and for what purpose do I have this? I do not magnify myself there with, but “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” Thus she turns the salutation towards heaven and says, I am exceedingly glad that I am the mother of God, but not for the sake of my person (for I am not worthy of it,) but because God hath looked upon my low estate.

The third virtue is fine and chaste behavior before the people; for Luke says she went finally to the hill country; that is, modestly and not from forwardness and vanity.

[Notes on the Magnificat up to v 47]

This is the song of the holy Virgin and prophetess Mary, which the Christians should daily sing and also understand; for it is such a song which the Holy Ghost has composed, of which it was impossible for man thus to compose a single word. But this is the sum and substance, that God cannot endure pride and high- mindedness; but that he will be gracious to those who fear him and are humble.

My soul doth magnify the Lord. Here the tender mother of Christ teaches us by the example of her own experience and by words, how one shall know, love and praise God. No one can, indeed, praise God, unless he has first loved him. So also no one can love him unless he has known him most lovingly and acceptably. So also we cannot know him, except through his works, wrought, felt and experienced by us. Where one ex periences that he is such a God, who looks into the depths and helps only the poor, despised, miserable, dis tressed and forsaken, who are re garded as nothing; there he becomes so very dear, the heart is filled with joy, and leaps for the great delight which it enjoys in God. And there is the Holy Ghost, who in one moment has inspired by experience such a super abundant art and pleasure.

And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord. Mind or spirit is the noblest part of man, whereby he is fitted to grasp inconceivable, invisi ble, eternal things; it is, in short, the house which faith and the word of God inhabit. (Psalm 51:12; 78:37) The “soul” is the same spirit according to nature, yet in another work; namely, in vivify ing the body and working through it (=life. ) The spirit is God’s habitation, in the dark faith without light, as the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle; there are seven lights; that is, all kinds of reason, discernments, knowledge and cognition of bodily, visible things. Therefore she says: “My soul,” as if she would say, All my life and all my senses are exercised in God’s love, praise and highest joy; so that I, not being master of myself, am more lifted up than I lift myself up to God’s praise. As, indeed, happens to all who are permeated with divine sweetness and spirit, so that they feel more than they can express. For it is no work of man to praise God with joy.

But she does not say, My soul magnifies itself, or thinks much of me, but she magnifies God only. And she gives the word “magnify” a , very fine meaning. Eor whoever , magnifier, another submits and humbles himself.

And my spirit hath rejoiced in God, my Savior. She begins in an orderly way, mentioning God her “Lord” sooner than her “Savior,” and her “Savior” sooner than she relates his works; not like the selfish people, who praise God as long as he sensibly shows them his goodness; but when God hides himself, then their love and praise also cease at the same time, thus proving that they had more pleasure in the salvation than in the Savior.

[The rest of Luther’s notes on the Magnificat are here]

Luther’s Explanatory Notes on the Gospels, pp. 181-183.

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