Luke 1 :39-55
December 20, 2015
People say the strangest things to pregnant women. First comes the size comments:
“Wow, you’re HUGE!” “Are you sure it’s not twins?” “How much weight have you gained?” You should put a sign on your back that says WIDE LOAD!” “I can’t imagine how that baby is going to get out.”
Then come the nosy questions: “Are you sure you’re really pregnant?”
“Was it planned?”
And the unsolicited advice:
“Did you know you’re not supposed to…” (fill in — “eat that,” “do that,” etc.)
“Get the epidural. You can’t do it otherwise, it’s horrible.”
“I didn’t do an epidural because I love my baby.”
And worst of all are the complete strangers who does not say hello or ask permission, but touches and rubs your belly, and says, “Wow, I just love pregnant bellies!!”
Men don’t really get much feedback. Generally, its just something like “Hey, way to go,” as if we had some kind of skill-set in the whole process. Someone always has to say, “Didn’t know you had it in you.” Or “Are you sure its yours?” Pregnancy is way out of my experience, not only because I’m a man, but because my children were adopted. I’ve helped raise four children, but haven’t lived with someone when she gave birth. I can say that people don’t know what to say to adoptive parents either. “Oh, you couldn’t have children?” “Do you have any children of your own?” No, just these kids I picked up a Rent-a-Center.
I can imagine what a great relief it may have been for Mary, betrothed but not yet married and pregnant, to talk with Elizabeth, finding some peace together-two women sharing the intimacies of their pregnancies without any stupid, prying questions. Elizabeth understands Mary’s pregnancy, both in the physical and spiritual realms.
Let me tell you the Christmas Pageant story as Luke tells it, where Elizabeth is in the center too. Luke’s Gospel begins with Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah, who is a priest at the Temple. One day, he draws a lot to be the one to burn incense for God in the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum of the Temple. An angel comes to Zechariah and says, “Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to a son, and he shall have the spirit of Elijah, the great prophet.”
There are two shocking things about this. First, Zechariah says, “Are you sure about this Mr. Angel, whatever your name is, for Elizabeth is ‘getting on in years.” Ah, there’s another classic euphemism. She’s “getting on in years” to be pregnant. The careful reader will note that this is repeating the story of Abraham and Sarah, who was also “getting on in years” and thought she was barren. God is doing a new thing, and it is beginning with a birth, a sign of hope when all hope was nearly lost.
What is God doing here exactly? Luke tells us that Elizabeth is a descendent of Aaron, the brother of Moses, the first high priest and all priests are of the House of Aaron. She is of the right lineage for the priestly class, but the angel has told Zechariah that the baby will be a prophet like Elijah. Prophets are the disturbers of the priests. Elijah’s adversaries were the priests. Jeremiah, Isaiah, Amos, Hosea, all judged the priests for approving whatever kings wanted, regardless of justice and morality. God is stirring to pot, with this child, who is born a descendent of Aaron, will have the power of Elijah, and become John the Baptist. The current priesthood will be challenged again, the angel says, to Zechariah, the priest who just got to burn incense in the holy of holies. No wonder he says, “Are you sure about this, Mr. Angel.” And the angel says, “I am Gabriel, (yes, that Gabriel from the pageant) the one who stands in the heavenly host, and for your question you will remain mute until after your child is born.” Imagine in this patriarchal book that a man does not get to tell the story. It is going to be told by the women who birthed the babies. Why is this never in Christmas pageants?
Next Luke tells us that Gabriel visits Mary, and her baby will be great and God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. Luke gives us an intimate moment between these two women, who are giving birth to sons who will overturn the current order of things. One has a mute husband, who must have seen a vision in the holy of holies, then Elizabeth becomes pregnant, the other, Mary, has just heard the incredible proclamation from the Angel Gabriel. They can understand each other, something spiritually extraordinary is going on.
I wonder if Mary had come to Elizabeth to hide out and get support. Mary could have been stoned to death for being pregnant out of wedlock. Galilee is not that far by camel to Syria and Northern Iraq, where women are being stoned to death today in ISIS controlled territories. She might be stashed out of site while pregnant, to save her life. So here is the climax of their meeting, when Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice of greeting, her baby leaps in her womb, and she is filled with the Holy Spirit and says,
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb… as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
Imagine Mary’s reaction. How did she know?! She hadn’t told anyone her story, but Elizabeth knows. So these two women, bearing so much in their wombs, bearing the future, bearing sons who will be great and who will both be executed. Two women who knew shame, one because she was barren for many years, the other for being pregnant much too soon, can share an intimate moment together, one that no one else can understand. Now Mary sings the Magnificat, the blessings of God who brings down the proud and raises the lowly, and fills the poor with good things. I imagine Mary sitting close to Elizabeth, wrapped in her embrace, singing with moist eyes, as tears of joyful gratitude form. She is safe, she is understood. Someone else knows she is not crazy- Elizabeth whose own baby leaps in the womb at the sound of Mary’s voice. That sounds like a great Christmas pageant.
It is a great gift to be understood and blessed. Remember this if you are still struggling with figuring out the right gift for someone for the holidays. What they may really need is to be blessed-For someone to notice the burden they are carrying, and to proclaim, your struggles, your work, your hopes and dreams are not in vain. You are blessed, so carry on. This should find its way into our New Year’s resolutions, to listen and bless those who need to be blessed. Bless all kinds of pregnancies. Some people are pregnant with books and ideas. Others are want to give birth to treatments for cancer, or fuel cells that will solve global warming, Grandparents, hoping for their grandchildren’s lives, diplomats that have hopes that peace will be birthed, activists pregnant with justice, people pregnant with the hopes that they will have a home again, find a job where their gifts and labors are welcomed, or where their pain is accepted and healed rather than dismissed. Perhaps this is all the church needs to be relevant again, is to live in the Spirit of Elizabeth, and bless all who are struggling to give birth to the Christ within them.