"Elizabeth's Impact"

And just like that, the angel left Mary … and she was alone: alone with the consequences of saying yes to God; alone with her thoughts, her doubts, her fears; dangerously alone.

The disciples examine the fresh wounds on Jesus's body after the resurrection

​Luke 1:39-55

December 12, 2021

Dr. Todd R. Wright

And just like that, the angel left Mary … and she was alone: alone with the consequences of saying yes to God; alone with her thoughts, her doubts, her fears; dangerously alone. So she flees, “with haste”, to her cousin Elizabeth’s. There she finds a joyful welcome and a refuge, tender care and a blessing. They are just what she needs – like cool water on a hot day, or a soft stool for someone with achy feet, or saltines for a body struggling with morning sickness.[1]

 

You may wonder why Mary was welcome in Elizabeth’s home. Maybe it just reflected the laws of hospitality in the culture: welcome anyone/everyone. Or maybe Robert Frost was right: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” But I think there was more. You may remember a recent commercial for Caprisun. In it a boy approaches an empty spot in the school lunchroom. Before he can put down his tray, the boys sitting there turn him away. A girl eating lunch with her friends sees the injustice; says “Hold my pouch!” and begins moving tables around to include him. Miraculously, others follow her lead![2] Maybe that same spirit led Elizabeth to want to take Mary under her wing. I think knowing the pain of being shamed may have driven her actions. After all, in a culture that valued women that could give children to their husbands, Elizabeth had endured whispers and disrespect as the years passed without a pregnancy. Mary wasn’t barren or old, but public opinion would tear into her just as quickly. So Elizabeth offers welcome and refuge, protection and love.

 

She also offers a blessing! And that blessing helps Mary embrace what God is doing in her life, helps her find the right words to respond, helps her magnify her experience of God’s mercy into a word about what God is doing for the whole world! Elizabeth blesses and Mary bursts into song about a God who lifts up the lowly and brings down the powerful, who fills the hungry with good things and the desperate with hope! That is what blessing can do. A blessing is more than a greeting, or a welcome, or even a hug. It is transformative! Artist and poet Jan Richardson describes the scene this way: “You hardly knew how hungry you were to be gathered in … nothing of you found foreign or strange, nothing of your life that you were asked to leave behind or to carry in silence or in shame. Tentative steps became settling in … taking your place in the circle that stunned you with its unimagined grace. You began to breathe again, to move without fear, to speak with abandon … to sing. But the deal with this blessing is that it will not leave you alone, will not let you linger in safety, in stasis. The time will come when this blessing will ask you to leave, not because it has tired of you, but because it desires for you to become the sanctuary that you have found — to speak your word into the world, to tell what you have heard with your own ears, seen with your eyes, known in your heart.”[3]

 

So when you think about this scene, I want you to consider Elizabeth’s impact. She could have turned Mary away as too much trouble, or refused to believe her story, or labeled her as fallen and foolish, a fugitive from justice, fleeing her family. Instead, she embraced her and defended her and proclaimed that she was “blessed among women”! Because Elizabeth showed grace, Mary found her voice and God was praised! It makes you wonder what could happen if we showed that kind of grace. How might God be praised, magnified, by some unlikely people, thanks to you? Amen

[1] this imagery is drawn from Rick Morley’s reflection on the text, “From shame to blessing with haste”, 12/11/12 [2] see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zllHKL3cef0 [3] from her poem, “A Blessing Called Sanctuary”
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