In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.
Mary went with haste to Elizabeth. Was she escaping? Was the danger too much in Nazareth, as a young virgin, to become pregnant was a direct breaking of ancient laws, she could have been stoned to death. She flees in danger, disgrace and fear to Elizabeth’s home. What will she find there, what greeting will she receive from this elderly couple, from a priestly dynasty, whose role in life is to unfold those ancient laws? Mary must have hope their grace would be greater than their judgement, but it was still risky.
There the story changes. From fear to joy, because the Holy Spirit intersects the danger and moves. John the Baptist, a second trimester foetus, leaps in Elizabeth’s womb, filled with the Spirit, he responds to the presence of God in Mary’s womb.
And so, full of the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth proclaims a blessing instead of a curse. She joins in with the true story of hope. God is at work, in secret, in risk, subversively invading the world with these two miracle babies. Because the Holy Spirit is in her, Elizabeth can see the real story, Mary isn’t an endangered victim, or a fallen immoral law-breaker, she is chosen by God. ‘Blessed’ means happy, delighted, and favoured by God. Elizabeth is able to tune into heaven’s story, not earth’s story.
And heaven’s story, subverts normal social convention. Mary is young, poor, pregnant before marriage, the very lowest of the social strata. Elizabeth is married to a senior priest, from the right family, living near the Capital, old and now honourable because she’s no longer barren. In an honour culture, age, social status matter hugely, Mary came in humility needing mercy from Elizabeth. And she received honour! – Elizabeth considers it privilege that Mary comes to her house. She already sees Jesus as her Lord and honours Mary for her faith and trust.
We then have one of the greatest, most famous, celebrated poems in all human history. The Magnificat, part of daily worship in many Christian traditions.
This great poem, captures the theme of subversion and reordering of all things. Mary, humble but overwhelmed by God’s favour, sees that what God has done for her, is a microcosm of his plans for all humanity. He has shown her grace and lavished his kindness on her, choosing her for undeserved honour. He has honoured the humble above the proud, he has provided for the poor and not the greedy.
What might God do on earth through this global pandemic?
The world will be a very different place by the second half of this year. Dramatic change in everything around us, means we have to choose which story we believe to make meaning of the swirling changes all around us.
We can tune into earth’s story of fear and judgement. We can join in the economic anxiety, jealousy and blame. Or we can pray and expect in hope, that God is working. That in a time of change, he will resist the proud and embrace the humble. That in hidden places, he is germinating seeds of a new society, maybe even in your heart and life, he is working now to grow new life, kingdom life, which will bring restoration, justice and new eyes to see people differently.