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Dec
12

Mary’s Mentor

“My people were ashamed of me, but now the Lord has taken away that shame.”

It may be hard for us to imagine a time when a woman was treated with disgrace, reproach, and yes shame by her family and community for not having a child. This was the setting in which Elizabeth lived her entire life. Some thought God was punishing her or there was some secret sin she was committing. Yet, Luke describes her as “righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.” How often our own assessment of people can be so different than God’s!

Carrying on the family name was a primary concern and someone like Elizabeth who was “well advanced in years” lived most of those years in shame before her people because she was not able to birth a son. Elizabeth and her husband prayed consistently that God would bless them with a son. Yet, there was no conception…and then Elizabeth’s body aged into a menopausal state, when hope diminished even further that she would ever be able to conceive the rest of her years on planet earth. Would she endure that shame to her grave?

Zachariah’s response to the angel’s announcement (“…Your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son…”) reflected the reality that this was not humanly possible. “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years?” (This is a gracious translation regarding Elizabeth’s age.) It also revealed Zachariah’s focus was on the present reality. And because Zachariah “did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time” the angel declared Zachariah would not be able to speak until these words came true. Zachariah returns home.

It was clearly faith that led Zachariah and Elizabeth into the bedroom that night.

Elizabeth—“well along in years”—becomes pregnant!

I love her declaration:

“The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

Who would have guessed that the pain Elizabeth endured most of her life would prepare her so well to mentor the mother of the promised Messiah?

Elizabeth all her married life knew only too well the disgrace of not having a son. Mary not yet married was about to experience the shame of having a son.

Gabriel specifically told Mary that her relative Elizabeth was going to have a child “in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”

Mary hurries to Elizabeth’s home to spend three months with her. I imagine Mary on her way wondering how in the world will I tell Elizabeth what’s happened to me? The words of Gabriel—I’m pregnant, yet a virgin. This baby is a son, the “Son of the Most High—his kingdom will never end.” Will she believe me? How will I convince her? I know she’s a wise woman. She has experienced something miraculous herself. Did she see an angel too?

Can you imagine what those three months must have been like? I’ve often relished the beauty of what God arranged for these two women. Neither was alone. Both had supportive men—men they needed to complete God’s plan for them.  Yet Zachariah was silent during these three months. Joseph was back home likely still trying to sort it all out.

In addition, we as women know that another woman can best understand the experience of a baby growing inside your womb, continual nausea, labor (false or real) pains, and the experience of giving birth. God has given this ability only to women. This is uniquely a woman’s experience.

What a gift to draw understanding and strength from a woman who has had a similar experience. Titus 2 certainly underlines the value of younger and older women connecting with one another.

As Mary draws near to Elizabeth’s home, I like to think of the similarities and the differences of these two women and how this would impact the next three months.

Elizabeth                                                           Mary

Older…………………………………………………Younger

Married……………………………………………..Engaged – single

Married to a priest……………………………….Engaged to a carpenter

Married to an “upright” man………………….Engaged to a “righteous” man

Husband did not believe angel’s message….Fiancé’ believed angel’s message

“Knew a man”………………………………………Virgin

Barren………………………………………………..Virgin

6 months pregnant………………………………..Just conceived

Pregnancy requested…………………………….Pregnancy not requested

Understood societal shame…………………….Would face societal shame

Miraculous human conception………………..Conceived by Holy Spirit/power of the Most High

Mothered the forerunner of Jesus……………Mothered Jesus Christ

Responded with praise…………………………..Responded with praise

Recognized need for salvation…………………Recognized need for salvation

Godly—accepted God’s plan…………………….Godly—accepted God’s plan

 

What would you add to this list?

About Bev Hislop

Dr. Bev Hislop is currently Professor of Pastoral Care at Western Seminary, developing and teaching pastoral care to women courses. She also served as the Executive Director of the Women’s Center for Ministry at Western. She authored Shepherding Women in Pain and Shepherding a Woman’s Heart, Moody Publishers. Bev has established and led ministries for women in churches and communities on the west and east coasts of the U.S. and overseas. She has a passion for more effective shepherding in church and parachurch environments.

Comments

  1. Bev,

    Thank you for pointing this out. It was especially dear as this is the advent season of expectation and waiting. I hadn’t thought about Elizabeth being a mentor to Mary, but she really was! They each must have experienced so much camaraderie and consolation and encouragement in the other.
    Thank you for this gentle reminder today.