In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb.
And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “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.”
The stories of a young and pregnant Mary and her older pregnant cousin Elizabeth come together in this visit, which gives us the beginnings of the relationship between John and Jesus. Why is teenage Mary in a hurry? She walks several days from her home in the Galilean north, climbing hills to get to Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah in the Judean south. Mary loves Elizabeth and looks up to her for her steadfast faith, despite the social shame of Elizabeth’s childlessness. Temple priest Zechariah had been shocked when the angel Gabriel told him that his aged wife would finally conceive. She is now six months pregnant. Mary wants to support and be supported by Elizabeth in their mutual surprise pregnancies.
Yet there may be a desperate reason Mary makes the hard journey for a woman carrying a child. Mary is an unwed pregnant girl in an honor-bound society. Though she and Joseph are legally engaged, she had not yet lived with him. Mary could be stoned for her pregnancy. That practice would be later condemned by her adult son – but women in such societies even today still face these risks.
Mary needs to keep her son – God’s son – safe, and she helps Elizabeth until after John is born. Mary and Elizabeth inspire with their devoted friendship, reminding us of God’s intention for nurturing relationships, sharing joys and sorrows, hopes and fears. Let their friendship inspire us to get in touch with a friend or family member.
Elizabeth is filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit, loudly proclaiming blessings of happiness. Mary is carrying the long-awaited Savior. Elizabeth experiences Mary’s visit as a mark of divine favor, wondering why she should be honored. She now looks up to the younger Mary as the most fortunate woman, trusting God as God works his purposes of salvation through Mary and the fruit of her womb. Do we discern God wanting to work in us as we serve each other?
Baby John in her womb also senses the Spirit, leaping for joy when they hear Mary’s greeting. Already preparing the way for the Messiah, this must be John’s strongest “kick” so far. Perhaps it will remind women of the special joy of carrying a child during the Christmas season.
Mary and Elizabeth are not only models of faith and acceptance; they teach the joy of salvation. During drug wars in Central America, displaced Christians formed “celebration committees” to remember their joy in God’s salvation in spite of deep suffering. Like John they leapt for joy as they worshipped, dancing in the presence of the divine. May the Spirit also give us joy in this holy season.
“Bogoroditse Devo (Rejoice, O Virgin)”, Op. 37 (All-Night Vigil)
Composer: Sergei Rachmaninoff
Performed by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Chorale