Mary visits Elizabeth
39 Mary got up and hurried to a city in the Judean highlands. 40 She entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.42 With a loud voice she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry.43 Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.”
Thoughts on the passage:
When I started in ministry, I was appointed to two churches. One of them was a small, struggling new church that was organized ten years ago and have not yet grown enough to support itself. The other church I was appointed to was Park United Methodist Church in Brainerd. At Park I was the part-time associate pastor. My role there was to support the senior pastor, Rory Swenson, in the work that he was doing. It was a great first appointment for me because it gave me the chance to work in my own space at the smaller church but also to continue to learn from Rory in what he had to teach me.
As I mentioned the smaller church was struggling to be self-sufficient. I remember one year, after doing our fall pledge campaign and looking at the budget we were going to have a significant budget shortfall. I do not remember the exact dollar amount anymore, but I would be willing to guess it was easily between 10% and 20% of the total budget for the congregation. I was at a loss at what to do. I called Rory asking for help and he dropped everything and met me for coffee to go over the numbers and talk about what options there might be. He did not have some sort of magic answer for me. What he did do was provide a listening ear, a calm presence, and a quiet wisdom to the situation.
We are not told exactly why it is that Mary heads to visit Elizabeth. We know that Mary has just learned two huge pieces of news. The first is that Mary is going to give birth to the Son of God. The second is that her relative, Elizabeth, against all odds, is also pregnant and already getting close to giving birth. There could be a number of reasons for her journey. As an older woman who previously was childless, it is possible that Elizabeth had been like a second mother figure to Mary, offering her support and care. It might be that Mary felt she had a duty as a family member to be present with Elizabeth and help with the birth. It might be that Mary felt overwhelmed with what she had learned, and she needed someone to talk to. After all, who was going to believe her if not another woman who was also experiencing a miracle.
When we face challenges in our lives, we often turn to people in our lives who can offer understanding and support. When I am struggling with what to preach on a Sunday, I turn to my mother, and not my father for help. When I am not sure what to do with a home repair project, I am calling my father instead. I love both my parents and often turn to them for advice, but I usually tailor that request to the person I think is going to better understand what I am going through. The greater the need the more likely I am to seek a person who could understand me. When the little church I was serving finally did need to close, I did not call Rory, but instead called my friend who had just recently closed her first church as well. I wanted to talk to someone who had been through what I was going to go through and could offer me that support.
I really think that this is why Mary rushes to go see Elizabeth. She undertakes this journey because she needs to be near someone who will understand her. Mary could certainly talk to her mother about the process of giving birth and would have likely gotten some good advice. She might have also gotten a stern lecture on having sex before getting married. Mary might have avoided telling her parents because she was not sure they would believe her. After all, the idea of God fathering a child is a lot less likely than the idea of a woman getting pregnant outside of marriage. If your child came to you and said they were pregnant with the Son of God, would you believe them.
Desperate for understanding and longing for support, Mary rushes to the only woman she can think of who might be able to really believe her. In Elizabeth she has someone she knows has experienced God’s miraculous power. When she meets Elizabeth, this is only further confirmed. Before she can even say something, Elizabeth can already tell that God’s spirit is upon her and knows she is pregnant. Elizabeth then becomes the first person to recognize Christ as Lord. The experience that both Mary and Elizabeth have had brings them together.
Who is the Elizabeth in your life that you turn to when you need help and support? Who is the Mary in your life that you have helped mentor and support when they were going through something difficult? If you think of my examples, it probably depends on what the problem is. Who is the person you turn to when you get bad news and need to process it? Who is the person you turn to when you have a spiritual experience and you are trying to understand it? If God called you to do something new and different, who would you reach out to?
We are not islands unto ourselves. We are not meant to survive in this world alone. When Mary gets this awesome and life changing news, she needs to talk to someone about it. We need to make sure that we do the same when we are facing challenges in our lives. Unfortunately, our society does not always make that easy. We lift up the self-made person as being the epitome of the American dream. We prioritize and celebrate the individual rather than the group. We teach our children, especially our boys, to stuff their feelings inside and to deal with things on their own.
We need look no further than the appalling rates of suicide and depression in our country today to know that we are not helping anyone with this advice. Would a 21st century Mary been willing to confide in Elizabeth or would she have hidden her secret in shame, afraid of seeming too weak, afraid of she would be judged? Do we create a climate of love, trust, and support? Are we too quick to leap to judgement and from there to condemnation?
I know what I think the answers to those questions are. I think yes, as a society we are too quick to judge that which we do not understand. We are too quick to cast out those we disagree with. We forget the lesson of Luke’s gospel, that to be blessed is to be loved by God, not by the world. We fail to see those around us with the eyes of God and know that they are loved like us. Instead we judge them, for their political beliefs, for their gender, sexuality, tattoos, clothing, music choices, country of origin and so many other things.
We need to be more like Elizabeth, open and ready to greet Christ in whatever form he comes in our door. We need to be more like Elizabeth, creating a home for those like Mary who are confused, afraid, and seeking understanding to come in the door. We need to do more to love the least, the last, and the left out, because in them we will find the Son of God. Amen
Questions to Ponder:
When is a time you have needed to turn to someone else for understanding?
When is a time you felt judged for the problems you were dealing with?
What can you do to see Christ in those around you who need help?
Wondrous God, you come into our hearts in small and simple ways, like a child, born in a manager. As we get ready to explore again the miracle of your birth among us, prepare our hearts and minds to let you rule them. Take away from us all of the distractions and temptations to follow others instead of you. Help us to be faithful to you. Amen