In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord." And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 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 powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever." (Luke 1:39-55)
Let's look for the Holy Spirit in this passage. Often we overlook what the Holy Spirit has done to Elizabeth, because we are too busy focusing on what it does to John the Baptist in his mother's womb. Look! The unborn child leaped for joy in the presence of his Lord! How neat! But look at Elizabeth now. "When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting!" Luke makes a point that it is upon hearing Mary's greeting that she is filled with the Holy Spirit. And Mary's greeting didn't contain, "It is I, Mary, who has been told by an Angel that I will carry our Lord and I believed the angel!" Mary didn't send a messenger ahead of her.
No, the Holy Spirit has given Elizabeth the understanding of things beyond her human capacity. All Mary has to do is share a greeting and Elizabeth is aware of who the baby is in her cousin's womb. Elizabeth also knows that Mary believed the conversation between herself and the angel. Elizabeth has an acute understanding of reality beyond what is capable by a human being unaided by the supernatural.
There are three kinds of understanding--three levels, so to speak. There's purely human understanding, which involves research and study of books. Usually, purely human understanding ignores the supernatural, doesn't believe in God, and therefore ignores over half of reality. There is more heaven than earth, so the lack of understanding when we take out the supernatural is way over half. Sir Isaac Newton is probably the greatest scientist who ever lived, and I believe it was because he was a true believer and took into account the Godly realm when he engaged in science.
Think about a painter who only fills half the canvas and then says he's done. Try reading a novel and only going through the first chapter before putting it down and saying that you're finished. We're getting less than half of the whole picture. Strictly human understanding is inadequate at best.
Then there's the understanding of the externally supernatural. If we look at the passage before this gospel passage, when Mary is receiving her information from an angel, we see that he fills her in on what is happening on Elizabeth's end. Mary has not received the Holy Spirit yet. She is getting her information from external means, but here is the angel filling in Mary on what is happening in Elizabeth's life. Elizabeth hadn't sent out a Christmas letter to her family--this is new news for Mary, just like the information that Elizabeth gleaned through the Holy Spirit.
Likewise in the gospel of Matthew, Joseph is intent on quietly divorcing Mary, but an angel of the Lord comes to him in a dream. This is the second level of understanding at work again. Think of your own dreams. Have you ever done a repetitive job or activity, like data entry, and then it started infiltrating your dreams? Think about how much of the worldly culture we intake from day to day. Then we wonder why we keep having dreams about our favorite sitcoms and don't get messages from the Lord.
Now there's the third and highest level of understanding, which is what Elizabeth exhibits. The Holy Spirit is so powerful in Mary now that John leaps for joy and Elizabeth is filled. The Holy Spirit provides perfect understanding of a subject. We will never see the whole picture that God himself sees, but on a particular subject we can have a more complete understanding by not only accepting the supernatural aspect of it, but by being open to the Holy Spirit's prompting. When reading scripture, these stories about other people in other times and places become relevant to us, because the Holy Spirit pulls the meaning and message out of the text for us to apply to our lives.
What does being filled with the Holy Spirit look like? Just one part of Mary's song informs us: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. What does a soul magnifying the Lord look like? Well, it is one that rejoices in God as the savior. We may have assurance of our salvation, but do we find ourselves rejoicing at this knowledge? And not just our external human selves but our inner souls. Do our deepest selves rejoice at the knowledge that the creator of the universe has saved us from destruction? Or are we so numbed by the culture that we can't move ourselves to feel anything anymore?
Let us pray that God continues to fill us with Holy Spirit, so that we may have the fullest understanding possible, and that our souls may magnify the Lord and rejoice in our salvation.