We like the condensed version of the Christmas story. We usually squeeze all the events into a short span of time. The story, as recorded in Luke 1:8-56, began nine months earlier with two women who would become mothers who by all reckoning should not have been mothers. It began with the angelic news to Zechariah, a priest, that a son would be born to him and Elizabeth, his wife. This was stunning news, not only because they were past the age of bearing children, but that their son would prepare the way for the Messiah. Soon he and his wife were expecting a child, just as the angel had told them. The angel Gabriel wasn’t finished. Six months later he came to the young virgin Mary to announce to her that God had chosen her to bear a son who would be the Messiah. The angel even stated that her relative Elizabeth was going to have a child in her old age, and is six months pregnant. He then says, “For nothing is impossible with God.” Mary consents to the proposed pregnancy. She then got ready and went to visit and be with Elizabeth. How significant this meeting of the moms-to-be would turn out to be! It wasn’t just the sharing of the experience of pregnancy, such as when Elizabeth first felt the baby move, did she have morning sickness, what foods did she crave, and other discussion about what Elizabeth felt that Mary might feel. Something greater was discussed – how each mom-to-be thought about how the boys they bore inside them would be the hope of Israel. How different their experiences would be.
In a culture where the worth of a woman was according to her ability to bear children, infertility was seen as a disgrace. Elizabeth had faced that disgrace most of her life. She bore the shame of infertility, along with the exclusion from friendly stories women shared about raising their children. Her old age pregnancy brought to her vindication of her worthiness. Still, she felt self-conscious about being about in public and kept herself in seclusion. Such joy that her years of waiting, her years of doubting her own worth, were about to end and a great change was about to take place. Zechariah had been told by the angel what their future son would be, even down to his name. The angel said the child would be a joy and delight, and that many would rejoice at his birth. This child would have a prophetic role in God’s purpose, preparing a people for the coming Messiah. Zechariah questioned how this could be, seeing that he and Elizabeth were advanced in age, and he was silenced because of his doubting. I wonder how he was able to communicate with Elizabeth all that the angel had told him? She knew something was special about the child she carried within her womb.
Mary was greeted by the angel with a salutation that she was highly favored. The angel told her that she would give birth to a son, and that she would name him Jesus. The angel then told her the role her child would play in the purpose of God. He would be the long awaited Messiah. When Mary asks how it can be, since she is a virgin, the angel answers that the Holy Spirit will overshadow her and the child will be the Son of God. The angel then tells of Elizabeth, and repeats the statement he made to Zechariah, “For nothing is impossible with God.” She rushes to see Elizabeth, and the stage is set for the meeting of the moms-to-be.
The meeting begins with an eruption. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. I don’t imagine this was any ordinary moving around, or the occasional kick a baby gives while in the womb. No, this was definitely different, a leap.
The leap is followed by the Holy Spirit filling Elizabeth to show the pivotal role Mary’s child would play, although Mary’s pregnancy had not yet been revealed. She refers to Mary as the mother of my Lord, and that hearing Mary’s greeting caused her baby to leap for joy. Then Elizabeth says, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her would be accomplished.” These two mothers-to-be knew something the rest of the world didn’t know – that God was doing the impossible with them to bring through their sons the salvation of the universe. Mary then speaks what has become known as the Magnificat, a poem detailing how God has done great things, and how he will put all things right again. The meeting of the moms-to-be show us that “ nothing is impossible with God.”
Rev. Andrew Wade is pastor of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Logan and a member of the Logan Ministerial Association.