Luke 1: 35-45: The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you; he will be called the Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
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, “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 will be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
The story we will examine and discuss is a part of the birth narrative of Jesus. In the New Testament, only Matthew and Luke write about the birth of Jesus, the Messiah. Both Evangelists devote approximately two chapters to the stories of Jesus’ birth and early childhood.
In the first chapter of the gospel according to Luke, the Evangelist tells the story of Mary and her older cousin, Elizabeth. Theirs is a tender story of companionship, collaboration, connection, and comfort. Both Elizabeth and Mary are filled with the Holy Spirit in a miraculous way. Elizabeth, who was barren, carries a son, John, later know as John the Baptist. John is a cousin to Jesus and a prophet of ancient Palestine. Mary, much younger than her cousin Elizabeth, will carry Jesus, the son of God, the Messiah; who will save the world from its sin. Both of their sons will make a profound impact upon the world.
In the world of The Spirit (“ruach” in Hebrew; “pneuma” in Greek), there is no “I,” there is only “We.” In this story of two women who are both family and friends, the “WE” noticed is the intersection of partnership and sisterhood, which is of godly conception and construct.
The Holy Spirit “breathes” upon both Elizabeth and Mary and creates a miracle of new beginnings for each. For Elizabeth, who was barren, a son is conceived in old age; much like the miracle of Abraham and Sarah. For Mary, a young woman (possibly a teenager), who has never known a man, the Holy Spirit deposits a child whom will be called the Christ, Jesus. The word, “Christ” in Greek means Savior to humanity. Both Elizabeth and Mary must grapple with the inexplicable, the holy, the miraculous. “How is this thing possible?” Again, we are confronted with divine irrationality. God chooses to bring about His will in ways we cannot possibly comprehend.
What we can understand from this story is sisterhood. When Mary discovers she is pregnant, she sets out to visit her cousin. In Elizabeth, Mary finds compassion, comfort, and care. There is no jealousy and no competition. While Elizabeth is older, married to a priest, and more experienced in life, Elizabeth harbors no resentment for Mary whom God chooses over her to carry and birth the Messiah. Instead of “hating on Mary,” Elizabeth blesses Mary in a most wonderful and profound way. Elizabeth is genuinely filled with joy for Mary; so much so, John leaps in her womb when she hears Mary’s greeting.
We find in the story that Mary stays with Elizabeth for three months until John is born. We can only imagine under Elizabeth’s mentorship and tutelage, Mary learns how to take care of her own baby. Elizabeth mentors Mary, and in their relationship, we see genuine sisterhood, sharing, and love. Here we find two highly favored women of God, sharing in the miracle of birth and friendship. No one has a godly purpose that is not meant to be shared with others. Theirs is a conscious partnership which God desires for us all, if we are only willing to extend ourselves to one another. After Elizabeth blesses Mary in verse 45, Mary breaks out in a song of praise (verses 46-55), known as the Song of Mary, or the Magnificat.
Through God and her friendship with Elizabeth, Mary has processed her own miracle and accepts her rightful place, as the mother of Jesus. She is able to return home in joy and anticipation of carrying her child, Jesus the Christ. Mary cannot help but to respond in praise and adoration to God with her whole heart, after Elizabeth blesses her.
There are many lessons in this story. As Dr. Renita Weems notes in her book, “Showing Mary”: “The joy you hope to reap in your life is tied to the joy you are able to plant in the lives of others.”
QUESTIONS FOR OUR CONSIDERATION AND DISCUSSION
A contemporary reading of the text results in the consideration of what is called, “spiritual pregnancy.” This can be our “opening up” experience with God; whereby, we realize God is calling us for His purpose and we respond in kind. We are “pregnant” with the possibilities of what God will birth in us which will change us and change the world. Mary answered God with “Yes,” and the world was forever changed and blessed. Consider the times in your life when God was/is calling you. What types of struggle was/is involved in answering God with “yes,” or refusing to answer at all?
The literal definition of Spirit in scripture translates to “breath.” In Hebrew the word is “ruach.” In Greek, the word is “pnema.” Consider the story of Mary and Elizabeth, as both are filled with the Holy Spirit. What difference did the Holy Spirit make in their circumstance? What difference does the Holy Spirit make in ours?
The story of Mary and Elizabeth is the story of friendship and sisterhood. Think about an important partnership you have with a woman in your life and consider its impact. How has this friendship made a difference in your life?
We live in times where women are portrayed in the media as “frenemies.” Consider the ways in which women are currently portrayed in music, television, print media, and movies. How are these images affecting the ways in which women (and especially our girls) view ourselves? What steps can we take, if any, to reduce these negative images of ourselves?
Elizabeth tells Mary: “Blessed is she who believed that there will be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” What does this verse mean to you personally?
Finally, the angel Gabriel tells Mary of Elizabeth’s pregnancy after he informs her she is pregnant with God’s Son. How do you think the timing of Elizabeth’s pregnancy assisted with Mary’s acceptance of her own? How does their story inform us, as to the timing of God in our lives?