Our focus this week was on Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, which took place immediately after her encounter with the angel. The author makes several suggestions for why she may have made this trip, which would have taken more than a week since it was 80 miles and crossed three mountain ranges. She may have had a close relationship with Elizabeth from earlier in her childhood, since childless women often dote on the children in their extended family. I had aunts like that. She may have wanted some advice from an older woman, like a mentor relationship. On the other hand, she very likely was in need of someone she could trust to believe her story. Given that she was told about Elizabeth’s miracle by the angel, who better to go to. Not least, in that culture one would expect women to be helping one another, especially when pregnant. Assuming she didn’t try to talk to her parents about her situation, it would have made a convenient explanation for why she needed to make such a sudden journey. Of course, if Joseph was in fact at Bethlehem, it would make it easier to tell him what was going on.
So Mary hears from the angel that Elizabeth, who is most likely past menopause or at least she and Zacheriah thought so, making her probably around 50, is expecting. Not only that he specifies that she is in her 6th month. So John and Jesus were born 6 months apart, which some of our members had never noticed. Mary goes to the house, walks in the door and apparently John recognizes him in utero. Then Elizabeth becomes the first person to call Jesus Lord, in the process of a rather prophetic sounding response. Mary did not even have to go into her story. And Mary responds with a song of joy. Prior to that, we saw submission to the Lord, but no sign of joy. No doubt the entire experience was a bit too much for her. She had been warned that her life would not be a picnic, she knew she was in danger of being stoned if Joseph did not accept her story and she had just traveled 80 miles on foot to be able to talk to someone about it all. How kind of God to give her confirmation that she was on the right track!
We spent some time talking about assignments from God and our response to them. Often life just seems to come at us, even if we think we are doing what God wants us to do, perhaps especially then. At that point, we really have to choose whether we are going to believe that God is in it all and will bring it all right in the end, or to give up and be depressed. Blessing, in God’s economy, often has less to do with material things than simply God’s presence with us. One member shared how the difficulty of having a grandchild born out of wedlock became a blessing for them as the child, now a teenager, seemed to be in tune with God almost from birth and she brings joy to her entire family and church.
We spent some time discussing whether Mary actually was rejoicing before singing praise in the Magnificat. Another member shared how her son, who is a composer, at one point used the Magnificat in a composition that was rather dark in tone. Surely Mary had to feel somewhat burdened by the responsibility at such a young age. Interestingly, I went home and looked at hymns for advent in our hymnal. There were more than the two that came to mind, several were from the twentieth century and at least one was in a minor key. I hope we all can learn to sing praise to God even in the midst of the difficulties and pain of life.