New International Version (NIV)
Mary Visits Elizabeth
39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
Listening to Mark Driscoll’s lesson on Luke: Investigating the Man who is God is an incredibly, spiritual-awakening experience! Our Home Group love it! Each week, a different member leads the lesson and every week a different member leads worship. This is the building of community with some of the most amazing people I have ever met – and I have met quite a few, in my travels across three continents and long stays there! God is beyond amazing.
Back to the story of Mary and Elizabeth. We learned that Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah were wither in their fifties or sixties. They were childless. Mary, Elizabeth’s relative was between 12 and 16 years old. As with women of the New Testament, marginalised, rural dwellers living in small villages. (Hence the mention of men only during the feeding of the five thousand! Women and children were not counted in any census at the time). Mary in particular was likely illiterate. A woman with their background was therefore unable to travel alone and had few, if any rights.
But God! He saw their hearts, felt their pain and blessed them with children. Elizabeth was to bear John the Baptizer! The awesome faithful and kind of strange man who loved God enough to seek him in the wilderness, then die in jail, with great joy and celebration at the hearing of Jesus’ ministry launch. Mary in contrast is told by the same angel, Gabriel that she would bear Emmanuel, God with us. She calmly accepts this, in total humility and maturity. For any woman, single or married, bearing a child out-of-wedlock meant certain death, after public humiliation and the shame of being stripped, marched around the village to heckling and physical abuse, then finally dragged to her death by stoning. There was never a chance to appeal or reason your way out.
Mary took the plunge and once the angel tells her that dear Elizabeth is also with child, she rushes out to celebrate with her, a whole 161 kilometres (100 miles away)! Picture this, a rocky, barren landscape, with little refuge from scorching sun by day and cold winds at night. No bus-ride, no car, no conveyor belt, escalators or hiking boots. Just a long hard trek that could take anything from four to six days. What do you carry to eat, without a cooler or cans?! Now remember the story of the Good Samaritan who helped the injured man by the side of the road after his robbery. These tracks in the wilderness were riddled with bands of robbers and wildlife! Mary walks on, undaunted, possibly praising God and celebrating the honour of bearing Jesus. I will not share what I would have done, apart from going completely spare and begging out of it; forgetting entirely that Emmanuel is the very reason I have life and need forgiveness! Sigh! Any who….
I imagine Elizabeth is home, making bay clothes, humming away as she cleans and prepares their home. Zechariah sits still in a corner in silent bewilderment. Silent, as the angel struck him dumb. Seems there are two blessings – John the Baptizer (he cannot be Baptist, as this is pre-denomination days – Hallelujah! – no offence meant but pun intended!). The second blessing is a silent and patient husband! Laughing out loud here!
The two girls meet, age is and tradition discarded, they run to one another, embrace, dance sing and worship God! Elizabeth’s years of silent torment at the well, by younger, more attractive and frequently child-bearing neighbours are all wiped away in an instant! Mary greets her and the six-month old baby leaps at the sound of her voice. The Holy Spirit presence is so strong, that Elizabeth prophesies over Mary. This brief episode culminates with Mary’s worship of God, with a pure heart, brimming with unbridled joy and passion.