11th Day of Advent
39In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!
46And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
After Gabriel departed, Mary wasted no time in going to see her relative, Elizabeth. Luke’s tightly condensed account of events raises as many questions as it answers and reminds us of how little we actually know about the circumstances of Jesus birth and his family connections. We have solid reasons for assuming that Mary was quite young but it’s good to remember that even this is an assumption on our part. In that culture a young woman would normally live in her father’s household under his authority until she married. If her father were dead, then an older brother or an uncle would assume the role of protector and legal guardian until she married. The scripture tells us of Mary’s response to God, but we do not know what she told her immediate family. We don’t know the details of her own living arrangement, nor do we know the nature of her relationship to Elizabeth. The word translated relative in verse 36 is a generic one for a female member of her extended household or clan.
Elizabeth was probably old enough to be her grandmother. And her home was a long way off. Elizabeth and Zachariah lived in an unidentified town somewhere in the Judean hill country. This means that Mary faced a difficult journey of some 80 to 100 miles across the Jezreel valley, through the unfriendly regions of Samaria, and then across a portion of Judea. That’s 4 to 5 days’ travel on foot. It’s inconceivable that she would have made the trip alone.
We get the definite impression from the text that Mary and Elizabeth already enjoyed a close, warm, relationship. That would explain both Mary’s urgent desire to see Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s willingness to welcome Mary into her home for so extended a visit while coping with the physical stress of the last trimester of her late-in-life pregnancy. In fact, it may be that Mary’s primary reason for going was just to help out.
At their meeting Elizabeth’s response was an ecstatic, Spirit-filled, tumultuous, exclamation of praise. Hers were the words of a prophetess.
In contrast, Mary’s song, known as the Magnificat from the opening word of its Latin translation, is measured and calm. She extols the glory of God while recognizing her own humble position before Him. Verse 48 could be translated, “He has noticed His slave-girl’s humble station.” She recognizes that her own blessedness is the result not of her personal worth but of the honor she was shown in giving birth to the Savior. She dwells on three aspects of the nature of God: His power, His holiness, and His mercy.
Mary’s faith in God is strong. She knows that God will accomplish His purposes and God will keep His promises. And isn’t that a lesson we could all benefit to dwell on this Christmas?
Questions to Ponder
- In Mary’s life there were so many “unknowns” and areas she could have doubted and operated out of an anxious spirit. But we know that she was firm in her trust in the Lord and His power. Is there a situation in your own life where you are operating out of anxiety instead of trust? Spend some time dwelling on God’s goodness and sovereignty in your own life and hand over to Him anything that is causing fear, anxiety, or doubt.
- Both Mary and Elizabeth clearly benefited from their relationship with one another, a relationship that bridged multiple generations. Do you have a special relationship like that with anyone in your life? If not, is this something you would like to cultivate? What are some steps you could take to being one?