In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’
Why the haste? Was Mary bursting to tell the news? A young pregnant unmarried mother with her story of a divine conception? If so, why the rush to go to her kinswoman’s house some distance away? It was surely a story worth telling firstly to her Nazareth relations and neighbours? But no, Mary chose to travel. Alone? Possibly, we’re not told of any companion.
Many have speculated on Mary’s reasons for going away in haste. Was it on an impulse to get away from village gossip? Were her local relations (on her side and Joseph’s) scandalised by her news? Did they actually encourage her to go? Or did she need time and space to reflect on the momentous happenings in her life (we recall that after Jesus’ birth she pondered on all that had happened).
Whatever we might conclude, the Scriptural link is the figure of the angel Gabriel appearing to both women – announcing the forthcoming births of John to Elizabeth, and Jesus to Mary. Both are amazed at the news of such divine providence in their different lives, and despite this, both accept it.
Mary may have left in haste, but she did not return in a hurry. It would be some two months into her pregnancy before she returned to Nazareth. In Elizabeth she found a kindred spirit. But she found more that. In Elizabeth she found confirmation that her pregnancy was even more special than that of Elizabeth. She was ‘Theotokos’ (bearer of God) as Greek Orthodox theology names her.
As a result, her son’s adult mission was to be just that, God bearer. Do we, in our turn, recognise that we too are called to be bearers of God to others. What a privilege. How far has our mission gone?
Gracious God help us to reflect slowly and with deep gratitude and wonder, on the story of how you chose to come among us. You choose ordinary people like us to be God bearers to a world in need of good news. Strengthen our hearts and minds with your Spirit in these days, so that our lives become a blessing to others Amen
The Rev’d John A Young retired minister of the Scottish Synod, member of Giffnock URC