(An imagining of Luke 1:39-55)
Mary woke from another sleepless night, drenched in sweat. The memories of her visit by an messenger of Yahweh still blinded her memory with a blazing light. What did it all mean? She was going to be withchild, and “He will be called great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.” The words all seemed to blur together as she pieced together those moments. She remembers the feeling of sheer terror brought on by the Messenger, but also the feeling of wanting to stay in that moment forever. There was pure Holiness, the likes of which she assumed were reserved only for the High Priest as he might enter the Holy of Holies. She’d never imagined such an experience might be possible here…in her home where dust and dirt have stained the walls, and she pulls another wool blanket up to her face – smelling the animals in need of a bath nearby.
She wanted so badly to tell Joseph. To try and make sense of it all. But she was so afraid he would think she was crazy. She’s seen how others have been treated. People who lost their grip on reality. She would be labeled “unclean”, and at worst case “possessed”, and cast out to live among those others who have made outrageous claims about experiences no one could, or would want to, ever verify. Surely Joseph would laugh, and might even consider himself released from any commitment to marry her. What would he really think? Would he believe a messenger from God visited her, and told her she would give birth – as a virgin – to a child who would be called the “Son of God”??!
The sun was just beginning to rise, and the sounds of a new day were drifting through the windows. She was just so tired. She wasn’t getting any sleep. She needed to do something. Nothing was going to make this easier, and she couldn’t keep it to herself. Then she remembered – a caravan was leaving for Jerusalem that morning! She had an old cousin there, a priests wife, one that the messenger of God had mentioned. Elizabeth, Mary was pretty sure that was her name. She remembered meeting her at least once before. An older woman, she and her husband Zechariah were both so warm, and seemed to love gently with God’s own Love. They had never had children before…there were all sorts of rumors as to why this might be. But the messenger had told Mary that Elizabeth was now pregnant? Maybe the messenger mentioned her for a reason. She suddenly felt the urge to join this caravan in order to travel down and visit them!?
It was a 3 or 4 day journey, and they always needed extra young men and women to come along. Young men could care for the animals, and young women could help with the food and meal times. Her parents would surely allow her, as she was already getting close to marrying age. She was right, and within a few hours – she was helping load the supplies and preparing for the journey. She didn’t have time to tell Joseph, but her parents knew – they could relay the message. She was going to check on a relative near Jerusalem, to offer sacrifices of thanks at the temple, and would be back within a week or two.
The journey seemed to take forever. The sun was hot, and the stench and noise of the animals being so close together made her long for quiet places. She saw the young boys running alongside the animals, laughing and playing. She loved watching their joy, but also loved wandering to the edge of the caravan – where she could hear her own thoughts, and see the beauty of the landscape. She imagined what life as a mother might be like. She imagined raising her son to embrace the quiet places as well, that way she would have someone nearby. But then she shook her head, laughing at herself. Of course, she had no idea what motherhood would be like – from what the Angel had said – this was no ordinary child. Could this really be? She was going to help bring the Messiah into the world – the one who would establish the Kingdom of God? As she had these thoughts, the men of the caravan shouted and everyone left the road, pausing while a group of Roman soldiers and officials passed by. Was God really going to bring freedom from the Empire…through her child???
After a few days journeying south together, they finally approached Jerusalem. Her relatives lived just south west of the city, so as the caravan slowed – Mary found a group traveling on, and joined them to go a bit further. As they approached Ein Kerem, she found herself heading toward the well. She needed a drink, and it would be the perfect place to find someone who might know where Elizabeth and Zechariah lived.
Elizabeth sat in the silence of another slow morning. Waiting to see what would happen with her day. Waiting. That’s all life felt like anymore. Always waiting to see what was going to happen, and so far – it didn’t seem like much. As her hand rested on her belly, she smiled. At least now, she could see and feel evidence of the incredible promise they’d received by an Angel over 6 months ago. She sighed, as she remembered those moments. She’d been so worried when Zechariah first came home from what was a proud moment. He’d been chosen by lot, to actually enter the sanctuary of the Lord to offer incense. A priest usually was only able to do this once, so she knew her husband was soaking in each aspect of the moment slowly. But when he came home that day, his eyes were filled with tears. She couldn’t even ask what was wrong, before he rushed over to her, and drew her close as he sobbed. She remembered her heart sinking in that moment. What had happened? What had Zechariah done? What had gone wrong? She smiled, as memories are always funnier after time passes. Those moments of her husband trying to communicate with gestures. He touched her mid-section, and a giant smile broke through his tears. He pointed at her, and without words he tried so hard to communicate. He stuffed a small pillow up his own tunic, and pretended to be withchild, and pointed at her. He made grand gestures, and wrote the word “Messenger of God” on a small piece of parchment.
It took a long time of back and forth that night, but she finally realized her husband’s voice had been quieted by God’s messenger, because Zechariah had failed to believe the message that was given. Elizabeth was going to bear a son….a child….she was going to be a mother – something she’d given up on many years ago. Not only a son, but a son filled with the Holy Spirit in the same way as Elijah, who would help prepare people for the Lord. So much excitement, and she didn’t dare doubt – as she’d seen what such doubt had accomplished in her husband. She smiled as she remembered the excitement, but then her eyes began to water as she remembered the pain of trying to tell others. No one seemed to believe. There was talk about Zechariah trying to stir up something to distract people from the temple. They were glad Zechariah was finally able to offer incense, but didn’t want to hear anything about God promising an old woman a child. She couldn’t understand. All of these people who were supposed to be her friends. Her loving community. She decided it would be easier to stay inside. She was so hurt, that even when her pregnancy began to show, she continued to live silently – staying indoors and away from others. She felt set free from any worry about what other people thought. She could sense the life growing inside her, and knew she was valuable to Yahweh – offering all she could toward what He had in store. Others would eventually celebrate, she knew this. But for now, she wanted to sit quietly, intimately seeking the Lord in whom she had found favor. Zechariah would still go to the temple on most days. They’d let him come around, but she sensed by his spirit each evening, it just wasn’t the same. He couldn’t fully participate, and join the prayers and the psalms, as his voice was no longer with him. The house was quiet, and filled with expectation. But after a few months, it seemed just mostly quiet.
So it was, 6 months into her pregnancy, that she sensed a stirring. She was restless and so, it seemed, was the life inside her. She heard the sound of travelers outside her window, and looked out to watch the people for a bit. That’s when she heard the sound of a young woman, “Cousin? Elizabeth?” The voice sounded to be coming closer, and her baby seemed to jump at the sound, so much that it startled her. That sounded like…..she rounded the corner and sure enough she was filled with warmth and excitement – Mary was here!
But there was more than warmth and excitement. As time seemed to slow down, she was filled with understanding and felt like she could see through into the reality from which all things exist. She was filled with the glory of God as she looked on her young cousin, and sensed a holiness growing within this girl that was the Son of God. This was it. This was the purpose her own son was growing to prepare the way for. She didn’t know how all of this came to her, but at once she was overwhelmed with the Love of God. She was swallowed up by the mystery of this moment, the Truth that seemed so filled with love – it became all too much for her to handle. The Love of God – revealed in His action of becoming an infant. All the holiness of God – touching humanity like never before….and all happening here, through her cousin Mary…she cried out, “
“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.”
She looked deep into Mary’s eyes, and saw herself. She saw an expectant mother, who had no reason but faith – to believe what God had declared would happen. She held Mary close in greeting, tears welling up in her eyes. Here is someone who understands. Here is someone who has believed, and God is doing something New as we offer Him ourselves. She began to relax her grip on Mary, and her young cousin stepped back.
Mary took a deep breath, as she received the blessing that was just spoken over her. How did Elizabeth know?? She wiped her own tears away, as she felt completely undone. Here was a God who not only knew her deeply, but invited them both into depths of loving relationship she never knew possible. There was no reason to pretend here, in His presence. There was no reason to wonder. In this moment, she felt like she could finally process the truth that had been spoken over her by the Messenger. The Holiness of God would be born through her as a child who would be King on the throne of David, to reign over the house of Jacob forever. It didn’t make sense, but it didn’t need to. It was true. The Son of God, the true King would come as an infant – and boy would that surprise the Emperor, and even the priests. This was the kind of thing her people had whispered about for years, always praying and believing that one day – it might happen. The loving kindness of God proclaimed by her ancestors, was doing something new – and changing everything. As the truth of this sank deep into her bones, she realized this was not just going to transform her life…it really would transform everything…she wept as she began to sing a new song…
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.”
As they embraced again, and spent the entire afternoon sharing all that was on their hearts, the home was once again filled with expectation. As hours turned to days, Mary loved the time they spent together. Here was someone who understood. Here was someone who had already endured the responses of others. Here was someone who was willing to serve God – no matter what the cost, and no matter how it changed her life forever. Days turned into weeks, and 3 months later – as Elizabeth was about to give birth, Mary knew it was time for her to head home. Even though she’d sent word home with other travelers, she knew her parents would be concerned. Joseph must be wondering by now too. She still wasn’t sure how to tell him about this child, but she wouldn’t be able to hide it for much longer. She was beginning to show, and these 3 months with Elizabeth had filled her with such hope and excitement for being right in the middle of what God was doing. The faithfulness and love of God was being revealed through these moments – and she was overwhelmed with Joy, and humbled to be a part of it all. She prayed as the caravan set out for Nazareth – “Lord…prepare Joseph for what is about to happen. As you have spoken to my heart, speak also to his. Not only his, but our whole community and all of your people. Prepare hearts, and invite others to be aware of what you are doing. You, Lord, deserve so much worship and adoration.” Her heart began to race, as she was unsure where to direct her words and thoughts. Should she turn toward Jerusalem, or should she whisper to the Holiness of God that was stirring within her? She wrapped her arms gently around herself, keeping warm in the cool morning, and simply whispered… “Thank you, Lord.”
We join with Mary this morning in whispering, “Thank you, Lord.”