On a day that would not only change her life, but the lives of countless others throughout eternity, Mary learns that she is chosen by God to be mother to the Savior of the world. Before the manger. Before the star. Before the shepherds. There was a mother and her unborn baby.
After faithfully accepting the most important call in human history, Mary conceives through the power of the Holy Ghost (Luke 1:35). The angel also tells her that her cousin Elisabeth is miraculously expecting a baby and is “in her sixth month” of pregnancy (Luke 1:36). Throughout this chapter, these remarkable women testify about the divinity and mission of the babies they were carrying. They were embarking on a journey with a story unlike any other. It might even be called the “pre-Christmas-story-story.”
In haste, Mary prepares for a trip to the hill country of Judea to visit the one person in the world who would understand; the one person who God had prepared to help her: her older cousin Elisabeth. Biblical scholars estimate that Mary was in her first trimester at this point, while Elisabeth was nearing the end of her second trimester. It is no wonder, then, that young Mary’s heart is filled with diligence, her mind with eagerness, and her eyes with earnestness toward the future as she travels the 100 miles to Ein Karem on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
At the end of this faith-filled journey, Mary goes to the door of Elisabeth’s home and calls out to her. What happens next is remarkable:
And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:
And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. (Luke 1:41-44)
The baby in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy when he heard the voice of the mother carrying the Christ-child. This tiny, unborn baby knew he was in the presence of the Messiah.
Recognizing the Savior
Dr. Barber, associate professor of psychology in the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, shares the following insight about this joyful response:
Jesus and his cousin, John, … are yet both clearly present as themselves. Baby John the Baptist is leaping for joy in his mother’s womb at the presence of the Lord whom he will follow and die for. Here we see the apostle already established as a person by God and recognized by his parents, acting with intention: “leaping for joy” inside of his mother. And Jesus the Messiah is established as himself, too, with Elizabeth calling Mary “the mother of my Lord.” (Link)
These passages in Luke are powerful. But there are many more that teach us these same truths:
“John [was] filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb.” (D&C 84:27)
“Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee.” (Jer. 1:5)
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jer. 29:11)
“The Lord … made thee, and formed thee from the womb, which will help thee. … He that formed thee from the womb, I am the Lord that maketh all things.” (Isa. 44:2, 24)
“For you were created in my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body, all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:13-16)
“Did not he that made me in the womb make him? and did not one fashion us in the womb?” (Job 31:15)
Seeing the Savior like never before this Christmas
These scriptures can teach us so much. Mary knew she was carrying her Savior, even before He was born. The tiny baby in Elisabeth’s womb (John) knew His Savior, even before He was born. Can we also feel His presence? Would we know Him if He were close by?
In a year that has been like no other, we can focus on this season of joy. Even an unborn baby felt joy when he was in the presence of his Messiah. We, too, can feel joy any time we bring ourselves into the presence of the Savior.
Every Christmas, we all lovingly worship Christ as a baby born in Bethlehem. Yet, perhaps there’s even more to discover. Because this year has gone so differently, it might help us to see Him differently. We might even begin to see the story of the unborn Christ-child as an extended part of the Christmas story.
As we sit down with our families this Christmas Eve, perhaps this is the year for a new tradition. Perhaps we can add Mary and Elisabeth’s remarkable experiences in Luke Chapter 1 to our reading of the Christmas story in Luke Chapter 2. Perhaps seeing our Savior as an unborn baby can change the way we view Him as a newborn baby this Christmas.
We know there are a lot of challenging cultural issues in our day. We also know how hard it can be to make sense of them from a Christian worldview. That’s why experts have put together a treasure trove of scriptures, social science and stories to help answer your most pressing questions.
You also won’t want to miss our episode of The Raising Family Podcast, where BYU professor Brian Hill talks about some surprising (and fascinating) research behind family traditions.