…when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. (Luke 1:44).
Mothers know what it is like to have an in utero baby punch, do summersaults and jerk or “leap”. Some mothers have observed that such movements sometimes appear to be the result of voices, music, temperature change and the like. In our text the in utero baby, John the Baptist, is not just generally reacting to outside stimuli but, as the inspired Elizabeth informs us, he is leaping for joy!
Somehow this baby in the womb has joy within himself. The Greek word used here for “joy” describes not merely a happy feeling. In the Greek Old Testament the word is used almost exclusively in the Psalms to express joyful worship. For example David writes in Psalm 20:5, “May we shout for joy over your salvation,” and again in Psalm 51:12, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” Of this Greek word for joy, Dr. Arthur Just further explains, “The word denotes the joy of salvation…It is linked to God the “Savior” or to “salvation” (Luke, 54).” It is a worship word; John the Baptist in utero is worshiping his Lord and Savior! From this text alone one realizes the sacredness and value of human life in the womb.
But how could John thus leap in worshipful joy? Simple. He encountered God’s Word, and through that Word the Holy Spirit creates life and faith. What word did this baby hear? The text records that Mary, pregnant with the Lord Jesus, entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth (1:40). Such a Jewish greeting was not simply, “Hello Elizabeth, how are you doing?” It frequently involved a loving embrace with words that actually explained how the greeter was doing. The likelihood that Mary explained how she was doing is made even more sure as Elizabeth says to Mary, And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord (V 45). It is evident from this remark that in her greeting Mary had indeed shared with Elizabeth what had been spoken to her from the Lord…that she had miraculously conceived the Christ. Even if such words were not shared by Mary, nonetheless in Mary’s womb resides the Word made flesh, who, in the presence of John the Baptist brings the Holy Spirit…the one who creates worshipful joy in the hearts of redeemed sinners.
Such an account stands as profound encouragement to Christian mothers who have miscarried. As pregnant mothers have come to church and heard God’s Word, receiving also the edible Word in The Supper, their babies in the womb are, like John in utero, graciously exposed to God’s Word. I believe that babies today are in a sense leaping for joy in the womb as their mothers partake of the very body and blood of Jesus. Though a mother is not given the same assurance as when her baby is baptized, nonetheless there is the assurance that faith — even faith of a baby in the womb — comes from the Word of Christ. This parallels adults who come to faith through the Word and then are sealed in their Baptism.
Lord You Lived in Mary’s Womb (Sung to “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” LSB 469) [By DJB]
1. Lord You lived in Mary’s womb,
On your path to void the tomb.
You once died the sinner’s death.
Your life grants eternal breath.
2. For those children who depart,
Who face death upon the start,
Christ has blessed each mother’s womb;
This had been His hallowed room.
3. John the Baptist leaped for joy
When he was a tiny boy;
Though not born, yet he was blessed;
Having joy from Christ confessed.
4. We have hope from God above,
Whose Word tells of Jesus’ love.
That Word did the world create,
The womb it will penetrate.