Summary: Mary was desperately craving an older woman to give her some perspective in life, and Elizabeth does just that. Elizabeth helps Mary see that this special calling from God is not a burden but a wonderful blessing. And it goes both ways!
We continue this week our “Journey to Bethlehem.” We began two weeks ago in Nazareth with Luke’s account of the conception. And we considered Mary’s willingness to humbly serve the Lord, even under these very difficult and shocking circumstances. Last week, we heard Matthew’s account of Joseph learning of Mary’s pregnancy. And we talked about how Joseph acted with mercy and compassion toward Mary, and because of that God was able to go to work in a big way. This week, we go back to Luke’s account of the Christmas story, picking up with Mary where we left off two weeks ago. As you recall, Mary was faced with a very delicate situation. If news got out of her new pregnancy, it could be devastating, perhaps even fatal. We can only assume that Mary was very afraid to share news of her pregnancy.
So today, we learn how Mary handled that fear and what she did after learning of her pregnancy through the visit from the Angel Gabriel. It’s interesting, really. Mary, probably only 14 or 15, doesn’t go tell her parents. She doesn’t call up her girlfriends and excitedly share the news as they squeal in delight. The first thing Mary does after learning that God has conceived in her a child is that she sets off to see her cousin Elizabeth. Now, it’s not like Elizabeth lives next door, or even in the next village over. No, it is believed that Elizabeth and Zechariah lived in the town of Ein Karem, which is a few miles from Bethlehem in Judea, about a nine-day journey from Mary’s home in Nazareth. We can also safely assume that part of the reason for Mary’s visit to Elizabeth was to take a side-trip to Bethlehem to share the news with Joseph as well.
Now, as the crow flies, it’s about 80 miles from Nazareth to Ein Karem, but remember that Mary would have been walking, through Samaria, and over three different mountain ranges. She would have had to join with a caravan so that she would be safe from robbers as she made the journey. Obviously, this was a very serious journey that Mary undertook. Clearly, it was extremely important that Mary get to Elizabeth, but why? Why would Mary take this long and dangerous journey, while pregnant, to see her cousin?
Have you ever received news that was so shocking and overwhelming that you just needed someone to help you process it all? Sometimes it’s hard for us to deal with something on our own, and it is helpful to share with another person; to be listened to, to reveal our feelings and emotions, our joys and our apprehensions.
When I was a senior in college, I applied for at Master’s Degree program in Instrumental Conducting at UTK. I spent several months preparing, practicing, and rehearsing under the careful guidance of my conducting professor. I even practiced with the Furman band before heading over to Knoxville to conduct the UT band as an audition. A few weeks later I received a letter from the UT School of Music; my application had been rejected. I opened the letter as I entered the auditorium at Furman for a dress rehearsal with the band. I hadn’t told anyone else the news yet, not my parents or my roommates or any of my friends. I went straight to my conducting professor, who was also the Band Director, and crying, I told him that I had been rejected from the only program I was really interested in pursuing.
Dr. Hicken gave me a hug and he said, “I’m sorry.” My response to him was, “Its okay.” And he looked at me at me and said, “Well, no, it’s not.” He knew how much I wanted that then, he knew how upset I was, and he gave me permission to be upset. It certainly wasn’t the end of the world for me, there were other options, and I ended up going straight into the workforce rather than continuing my music education. Thank goodness that’s the way it happened too, because otherwise I would’ve ended up with a Master’s degree that would’ve been useless just a few years later. But the point is that in the face of some very shocking news, I had a mentor who listened, who gave me permission to be upset, and who helped me gain some perspective in the midst of it all.
And that’s exactly what Elizabeth did for Mary. Granted, my news and Mary’s news were a bit different, but in the midst of her fear, uncertainty, and even excitement, Mary needed to talk to someone safe, someone she trusted. Mary was desperate to find someone who would understand what had taken place, who would listen to her and believe in her; someone who would encourage her. Now remember that one of the last things the angel said to Mary was that Elizabeth, Mary’s relative well beyond childbearing years and said to be barren, was already in her sixth month of pregnancy. Mary knew that if anyone would understand this unexpected news from the angel, it would be Elizabeth. So Mary undergoes this journey to Ein Karem to see Elizabeth.