Elizabeth and Mary. The relationship between these two women in the Bible has always fascinated me, because I see in it the very ingredients that bond women together. Come with me for a moment and see these two women in Scripture, not just as characters in a story, but as real women whose stories are so much closer to our own than we realize...
Elizabeth, the woman who could not have a child. She married a man in the Lord's ministry and both of them were known for their faithfulness. Think of the woman in your life--the pastor's wife, the missionary's bride--who exemplifies graciousness and hospitality, dedication to the Word of God, and faithful support of her husband's ministry. While she is not perfect and has her own quirks, the genuineness of her faith pulls other women toward her like moths to light. She is a mentor, a friend, a sister. She is the first one you think of when you want guidance and refreshing.
I imagine that Elizabeth was that sort of woman. What was she to Mary, for her to be the first person Mary sought out upon learning of God's plan? She probably knew Mary from a baby, helped to guide her through the tumultuous emotions and questions of childhood and the transition to womanhood, drew Mary into deeper understanding and trust of the Lord.
All this while Mary watched Elizabeth navigate the deep sorrow of barrenness. While women around Elizabeth bore children, Elizabeth grieved the children she could not have. While she aged past the hope of motherhood, she bounced the children of other women on her knees, cared for those around her with compassion, and conducted herself in a way that brought only good reputation to her husband.
And [Zechariah and Elizabeth] were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless...
Mary, the woman gifted with God's prophesied Messiah. Can you imagine the moment when she saw the angel, knew he was more than a man, and heard him speak to her? His words are grand, saying essentially: "You are special to God and He is with you. Out of all women, you are especially blessed."
What woman would not stand numbly, wondering, trying to understand why a messenger from God would say such a thing? Then the promise: She would have a son who would fulfill all the prophecies that her people had kept for centuries. She had seen the groaning of her people, the longing for deliverance, the chafing under persecution and Roman domination. She had participated in the holidays in which the longing was expressed in the songs of her people. Where is the Messiah? When will the Deliverer come? When will the Lord remember His peoples' suffering and bring them peace?
Her? Her?! She was be the mother of the one who would fulfill every deep, desperate longing, who would do what no one--not even the great kings of old--had done?
Ah, but who would be the father of such a one? What man would God choose to beget the Deliverer?
"How can this be? I am a virgin."
God Himself is the Father. By His power and provision, His own son will be born through you.
A shiver of astonishment. A catching of the breath. This was it. This was not mere deliverer like Gideon or Samson or David. This was HIM. There could be no father. Scripture was clear on this fact. "And a virgin shall conceive and bear a son..."
And she was that virgin.
After the first astonishment wore off, the realities grasped her. Joseph--he would surely believe she had done the unthinkable, giving herself to another man. Her family--shocked and astonished that the woman who had always been so faithful, so godly, had committed such a grave crime. Her community--would they stone her? No, the Lord would protect her life. Yet He might not shield her from the reproachful glances at the well, the lifetime of stigma, the whispers: "There goes the woman who cheated on Joseph. See her with her illegitimate son--the shame!"
Who, who in world would believe the unbelievable?
Elizabeth. Hadn't the angel said that Elizabeth was six months pregnant? A thrill of delight. Elizabeth--pregnant! All those tears that Elizabeth had let so few see, all those years of loving children not her own, all that heartbreak given again and again to the Lord... Elizabeth, remembered by God. What manner of man would her little one become? Surely Elizabeth's child was notable. The angel would not have mentioned him otherwise.
Elizabeth was a woman of God. She, of all people, would understand and believe.
There were no phone calls in those days and messages were expensive. It is unlikely that Mary would have sent ahead to say that she was coming. So she arrived, eager to see Elizabeth, to confirm the angel's words with her own sight, to rejoice in her cousin's joy, to hear comforting and wise words from perhaps the only person who would ever believe her story.
And Elizabeth turned, heard the unexpected sound of a young voice she loved so well. A quickening in her womb, a sudden quiver of uncontainable joy, a clarity of understanding that she could not explain.
Mary! The Deliverer had come. God was here, a vulnerable, dependent child in the womb of a young woman Elizabeth had watched grow from infancy. Oh, the joy! Elizabeth caught Mary in her arms and her voice rose like the exultation of the sun in the morning. Blessed! Blessed! You are here? Out of all those you know, you come to me? Even my unborn child knows the One you carry.
And they worship. These two women, from the first greeting, pour their hearts into deep and reverent and exuberant worship. The Lord remembers. He is strong and merciful, from generations past until today. He remembers the ones no one else remembers, and makes the proud see their weakness. He cares for His people intimately and faithfully, and keeps His promises.
They worshipped and they rejoiced in that sacred bond of two women who bear children together. As their bodies changed forever, as the burden of life grew within them, as the miracle of motherhood blossomed, they shared a hundredfold in the sisterhood of mothers.
These women are our sisters too. We forget that they actually lived, that they were real. But for every woman of God, we share more with them than we can imagine. There are still childless women, who walk the path of Elizabeth, claiming jewels of trust and truth along a twilight path, following the light of their Lord. There are still faithful women, who, like Elizabeth, guide the younger women, or who, like Mary, demonstrate godliness from their youth. They are women who do not shy away from the Lord's calling upon their lives, who choose suffering for the sake of the Lord's greater purpose, who respond to every season of life with deep worship and gratitude.
Someday, I will see these sisters in our eternal home and I will run to them both as Mary ran to Elizabeth. "Thank you! Thank you for showing me how to worship, how to love the Lord, how to rejoice in His will despite the pain and rejection. I am blessed to be your sister."
Who is your Elizabeth? Who is your Mary? Remember her today. Let her story inspire yours, and let yours inspire hers. Speak with her of the goodness of God and turn your hearts together toward worship. We are sisters in a calling far higher than we can imagine. Do not hold back; go forth!
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
None of my life has gone the way it was "supposed to go," but I don't love my life any less because of the hardships and new directions. I see so much unexpected good in it, and I want others to see the good in theirs.