Excerpted from In Those Days and In These, an Advent Devotional Guide from the NC Council of Churches
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.”
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.”
Luke 1:39-45, 46-55
Perspective is everything. It influences what we see, what we hear, and what we think. Often, if we haven’t seen it or heard it before, we have a difficult time imagining it. Stories that others tell us might not seem real until we know something about their truth first hand. For example, we might not know what the people of Syria, Palestine, Central America (Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador) experience when they flee their homes in search of safety. But lately, some of us have been forced from our homes by fire and water, so we do know something about what it means to run away without knowing when or if we will return. After we have approximating experiences, we can extrapolate from them and begin to understand other scenarios. This becomes especially important when we think we know what someone else has experienced without taking time to listen to them and to learn from them.
There are several things we can learn if we pay attention to Mary and Elizabeth in this report from Luke.
- Elizabeth is in her second trimester of pregnancy—she feels the baby move, which rarely happens before week 16.
- Mary looks to Elizabeth for support and mentoring—she went to see Elizabeth with news of her own pregnancy as soon as possible and then stayed for 3 months (v. 36). 6+3=9, so it’s likely Mary stayed until Elizabeth’s baby was born.
- Elizabeth believes Mary’s baby is destined for great things—“blessed is the fruit of your womb,” “mother of my Lord,” and “. . . a fulfillment.”
- Mary is a good poet—“My soul magnifies the Lord . . .”
Pay very careful attention now because this is not your average poem. This kind of poem turns words into action. What Mary sings aloud comes into being the way words brought the world into being when God spoke them aloud in another famous poem. God said, “Light,” and there was light (Gen 1:3), followed by sky (Gen 1:8), then earth (Gen 1:10), and so on until God finally said, “humankind”(Gen 1:26).
Mary says, “blessed,” and it is so. Mary says, “mercy,” and it is so. Mary says, “lifted up,” “filled,” and “helped.” Each of these words becomes reality when she speaks them aloud. In fact, Mary speaks in the past tense. God “has scattered the proud,” “brought down the powerful,” and “sent the rich away empty.” This tells us something important about our God. Our God has already made the world the way Mary describes it. Her poem is a gift for us, so that we might see what she saw, which is what God shows us.
Mary’s words are powerful words, words that make the world a different place from what it appears to be. They make the world a more just place, a more peace filled place, a more hospitable place, a better place. They are words we should all thrill to hear. Unless—and here is where we must really pay attention—unless we are the proud, the powerful, and the rich. Then these words are a threat. Now we must use our arrogance, power, and wealth to tell a different story, a story of fear and weakness and scarcity. Indeed, this different story becomes the story that drives our behavior. We isolate ourselves from suffering, we protect ourselves with concealed weapons, we insulate ourselves with wealth. And now we can no longer see the world God has given us, the world Mary sees so clearly.
Advent is a time of preparation. Perhaps we can begin by donning the lens of faith and changing our perspective. When we see clearly, we can clearly choose. Will we believe the story Mary tells us or continue to believe the story the world tells us?
Prayer: Great God of the Promise, Mary tells of your mercy and grace, showing us the world as you have always meant for it to be. Give us eyes to see clearly what she knows completely, so that we might live more fully into the grace you provide. We pray as we wait on the one whose life, death, and resurrection focused fully on your presence. Amen.