Have I mentioned that I LOVE the Advent season, especially as a mom?! Okay, I have, but here’s yet another reason: The Visitation.
In a world where the phrase “Mommy Wars” is in common parlance, I’m on the lookout for positive role models for female relationships. At this stage of my life (early motherhood), there are few better biblical examples than Mary and Elizabeth. Given the fact that one of last weekend’s readings at church revolved around the Visitation, I am struck once again by the way that these two women chose to support and love each other in spite of the seemingly insurmountable reasons not to.
My paraphrase of the Visitation:
The angel Gabriel informs Mary that she’s pregnant, and as part of his pep talk, also informs her that her relative Elizabeth is pregnant. Mary then takes off “in haste” to visit her kinswoman, who greets her in a “loud voice” and blesses her and her unborn baby.
I find it poignant that there isn’t any discussion of how Mary’s family received her news and very little about Joseph (Matt. 1:20). Instead, the Bible gives us newly pregnant Mary quickly seeking out her pregnant female relative. Isn’t it awesome that the most pivotal pregnancy in the best-selling book in the world is celebrated by two female friends?! No rancor, no jealousy, no mommy wars. Just love.
For this interaction to occur, even in modern times, would be uncommon. Mary comes from a decent, observant family. Mary is a teenager. Mary is pregnant. Mary is unmarried. Many people in our millennial society would pause before hosting someone in a similar situation, let alone proclaim for the neighbors and anyone else willing to listen that this unmarried, pregnant teenager is blessed by God.
Elizabeth could have chosen to react to Mary’s news in any number of ways. She could have been resentful of this girl who didn’t even have to try to get pregnant, especially since it had arguably taken Elizabeth decades to conceive her own child. She could have been scornful of the unintended pregnancy and the “shotgun” wedding. She could have been disappointed in her kinswoman’s “disgrace” and how that reflected on Elizabeth’s own family. She could have… Well, she could have been another nail in the coffin of the “Mommy Wars” B.C. edition. But instead, she chose to support her young relative, to encourage her, and to love her.
Elizabeth also invited Mary into her home for three months. Now, you may be thinking, this was a different time where people would often stay with friends and relations for an extended length of time. And, you’d be right. But, remember too, that the concept of “guilt by association” and “illegitimate pregnancy” were a much bigger deal two thousand years ago. For Elizabeth to host her suspiciously pregnant kinswoman wasn’t just familial responsibility or expectation, it was downright dangerous. It was, at the very least, a statement of support to her entire community that she was standing by her young friend regardless of the potential consequences.
Furthermore, Elizabeth didn’t merely host Mary in her home, hidden away in some quiet, secluded room. She “cried out” to Mary in a “loud voice” as she arrived. Her servants, her neighbors, and anyone passing would be able to hear her blessing of the young woman and would know, not merely assume, that Elizabeth supported her relative in her pregnancy.
How wonderful would it be if we were as vocal and visible in our support of each other?
It shouldn’t matter how it appears to others or what perceived consequences stand in our way. As women, and especially as mothers, we have a common understanding of what it is like, and how hard it is, to raise and bear children. That is the essential bond, not whether we work or stay home; not whether we are “attachment” or “free-range;” not whether we breastfeed or bottle-feed; not whether we buy organic or not. How much do these distinctions pale when compared to our great similarity: our love and concern for our children. We should be eager to offer our compassion, to seek love, and to live by grace.
And what of Mary? After receiving the blessing of her kinswoman, Mary proclaims “the greatness of the Lord” and “rejoices in God.” After her earlier exchange with Gabriel, which I read as reticent and resigned, this “rejoicing” is a strong emotional shift for Mary. I like to think of the Elizabeth-Mary exchange as directly related: only after Elizabeth blessed Mary, did Mary feel free to rejoice in her blessings and proclaim the greatness of God. Through our compassion and love, we too can help others to see the joy in their blessings. Through our support for our fellow mothers, we can all proclaim the greatness of God for gifting us with the miracle of God’s creation.
As Elizabeth calling out to Mary, may we open our hearts as a safe harbor for fellow mothers to come without fear of scorn or ridicule. May we, through our compassion and support, be the spark that ignites joy in others and proclaim the greatness of God.