Elizabeth Was Filled With The Holy Spirit

Advent 4C

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 uninhibited 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. It is time to get ready for our Lord's coming as an infant.


Before we look at our reading, 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 vision of a great powerful presence overshadowing someone will remind you of another coming in the Old Testament: the Coming of the Word, Commandments, Torah, at Sinai.

In our reading, St Luke describes the Coming of the Holy Spirit 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: )

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.

Notes On Our Text

Verse 39

Having been told by the angel (see verse 36) that her cousin was also going to have a baby, Mary takes the in 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. 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 Moshe Chayim Luzzatto has written, “…this teaches us that all the deeds of the righteous are done quickly”. As the Prophet Hosea says (Hos 6: 3) “And let us know – let us run to know God”.

Verse 40

Upon arriving she goes straight into the house and calls out to Elizabeth

Verse 40

At the sound of Mary’s greeting, “the baby leaped in her womb”. Though yet unborn, the baby is the first to give witness to the presence of the coming Messiah.   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.

Verse 42

Filled with the Spirit Elizabeth calls out, “In a loud voice…” 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. We must ponder this great truth.

Verse 43

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.”

Verse 44

In humility Elizabeth reports to Mary what had happened. She is given the gift of inspired utterance.

Verse 45

The occasion closes with another benediction: “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord said to her will be accomplished”.

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.


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.)

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 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)

Millennium Consecretion

This fourth meditation in Advent 2000 comes at the end of 20 centuries of Christian culture and service to humanity. It is with gratitude that we witness the close of the second millennium of the Christian Faith. In the spirit of Advent we await the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the meantime commit ourselves to the love of God and humanity as the third millennium unfolds in the year 2001.

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