One of my favorite parts of Advent is the annual visit with the two pregnant women, Mary and Elizabeth. Although the lectionary often curtails that section of Luke, reducing it to Mary’s Song of Praise, I always include the section just before the Magnificat, when Mary travels to Elizabeth and the two women greet each other, both very much aware of each other’s state of being “with child.”
When I was pregnant with my second child, my best friend at the time was also pregnant. Her daughter was born just a few weeks before my son. The shared experience of pregnancy was powerful. Although I knew plenty of people who could empathize with me during my first pregnancy, it was a completely different experience to be walking the same road at the same time with a close friend.
While we shared our hopes and dreams for our children not yet born, we also spent a great deal of time supporting each other through those less poetic aspects of pregnancy—morning sickness, an increasingly unfamiliar body, the barrage of strange tests, the invasions into one’s personal space, and all of the other indignities of pregnancy.
I’d like to think that Mary and Elizabeth did at least some of the same. I’d like to think that Mary and Elizabeth supported and encouraged each other, that they formed a little community unto themselves that carried them through those few months that they spent together.
Christianity’s patriarchal, male-dominated history (and present) has unfortunately missed the rich and meaningful story of the expectant women about whom the Gospel writer Luke wrote. It is remarkable that, as we visit the Christmas story year after year, Christians tend to glide quickly and carelessly over Mary and Elizabeth. And, to the extent that we visit them at all, we focus almost entirely on Mary’s Song of Praise. Certainly, the Song of Praise is deserving of attention. But, there’s lots more, and so much of it valuable material for considering our faith.
As Christians, our faith is constantly in a state of expectancy. Even as we meet Christ, our understanding is only partial. We are called to travel the path of faith, seeing bit by bit, always expecting, always anticipating—as a pregnant woman.
Something is always in the process of being born. God’s purposes are always making themselves known. And, we are people who participate in that—in that birthing process, in that revealing process. We are the ones who are called to notice the small signs of new life and new hope, and to be about the business of allowing God to lead us in ways that help bring that new life to its fulfillment.
Mary was not simply a delivery system for the Son of God, but the person who nurtured that new life, the first one to wonder about what this was all about, the one who first got a sense of who this Jesus was going to be, through his movement and life in her womb. And, for some part of that journey, she traveled with Elizabeth, also pregnant, and they were together—encouraging and supporting each, wondering and hoping with each other, focused on bringing new life into a chaotic and violent world.
Mary and Elizabeth provide a model for us as God’s people, that we too are to be with each other. We hope and dream together. We support and encourage each other. And, we ought always to be attentive to new life—in its wonder as well as in the discomfort and strangeness it brings. And, we ought also to be in community, an expectant people.