Mary + Elizabeth = Good Trouble

Office of Lauds. The Visitation. Mary and Elizabeth in the garden of a country house

Mary’s visit to Elizabeth is the meeting of two prophesies: one of John, one of Jesus. It is the upending of conventional means of power. Two women of particular scorn have come together. One was barren: a sign of cursed-ness. One was pregnant outside of marriage: a sign of sinfulness. Two undesireables are now harboring the greatest secret in the history of the known universe. How crazy the way God works! Perhaps this is so God can stack the deck against God’s self so that God can eventually conquer and overcome ALL human means of rejection. I know that for me, I’ve wanted in life to overcome rejection. I’ve always despised those who rejected me: in school, in church, in sports, in music, in life. Harboring resentment is a particular sin of mine. But God doesn’t despise either the rejector or the rejected. But entering a place of consummate rejection, God through Christ condemns ALL human means of rejection. So as my colleagues have been arrested on the border with Mexico for simply desiring to not reject their Mexican neighbors, I realize that they are practicing the story of Mary & Elizabeth in this day in this land. They are condemning a wall, a visceral and human means of rejection. They might as well be wearing jingle bells as they sit in jail. Locally, there are many human means of rejection. And I have jingle bells in my desk. Can I ring these bells in the “spirit of Christmas” without condemning the ways we reject one another? Not with integrity! Mary and Elizabeth came together for seemingly social, relational reasons: Elizabeth is in seclusion, Mary needs to hide the pregnancy for a while. These women are kin. And yet their meeting is the arena in which some potent prophesying takes place: Elizabeth firstly experiences the movement of John in utero which also fills her with liveliness AKA the Holy Spirit. She pronounces blessing upon one who ought to be condemned: “Blessed are you among women,” she proclaims to someone trying to hide a bump! I wonder if Mary came to Elizabeth full of the courage as she showed Gabriel or had the gravity of the situation caught up with her. Did she go feeling great? Was she afraid? All indications are of resolve and confidence: what a precocious young gal! When she sings the Magnificat she acknowledges her own blessing while spitting out some fiery prophesies of her own: “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones.” That’s a challenge to any man of power of any age! Certainly Herod took notice, as did Pontius Pilate later on. It’s notable that slave holders exorcised passages like this from Bibles they gave to slaves. If 50% of the NT was omitted from this “bible” surely the Magnificat was among those on the cutting room floor. The fact that “Mary” means “rebellion” underscores the revolutionary character of Jesus’ mom. These two budding children will upend all that currently is. What we know now is that powers have a tendency to fight back rather fiercely. Elizabeth’s son was beheaded. Mary’s son was crucified. While these mothers are prophesying, do they know the trouble ahead? “A sword will pierce your own soul, too,” Simeon would warn Mary. Between the wisdom of Elizabeth’s age and the tenacity of Mary’s youth, I suspect that they had both an awareness of danger and a determination of spirit to see these promises come true. “Let it be with me according to your word,” Mary tells Gabriel. These two sons would call people to repentance and reveal the nearness of the kingdom of God. One will invite us into the waters of baptism, that we may be cleansed of sin and claimed by the grace of God; the other will give us his body and blood that we may be in Communion with God through him. Undoubtedly the prophetic fire of their mothers raced through their veins. And blessings and songs of rebellion and deliverance drove their actions.

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