Friday, December 24, 2010

"Where Are The Elizabeths?"

This Tuesday morning at the Manor Dad chose as his devotional the title, "Where are the Elizabeths?"

He was, of course, referencing Elizabeth, the wife of Zachariah and the mother of John the Baptist.

Elizabeth is one of the secondary players in the story of the Nativity; but it was to her that Mary turned in her first days of blinding joy, of blind panic, over what was to happen to her, what was to become of her.  

The following thoughts are taken from Luke chapter 1, verses 38-44, and also verses 57-58.

Verse 38 leaves us with Mary saying to the angel, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to your word." And the angel vanished.

And Mary, this innocent young teenager, was left with no one to talk to, no one of whom she could ask questions.

But then she remembered someone. Verse 39 and 40 tell us that "in those days" - that poor girl had been fretting and stewing and rejoicing and trying to come to terms with the message of the angel for a few days! - Mary went into the hill country. Her destination was Zachariah's house.

She went "with haste," we are told. She was a teenager, impulsive, uncertain, wanting to get away from her home town where everyone knew everyone's business, too scared to tell her fiance, desperate to find someone who would listen to her, someone who would understand. As Dad said, she was not going with gladness; she was going with need.

Now Zachariah was a priest married to the daughter of a priestly family - maybe not the household that a girl who was single, scared and pregnant would normally run to for help and encouragement. Mary knew, though, that Elizabeth would understand.

Where are the Elizabeths today who will understand a situation, a person in need? What do they look like?

These are the characteristics of Elizabeth that Dad pondered in our study:

  • She was a woman who understood the need of a person (v. 41): Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting and the baby she was carrying, John, leaped in her womb. She knew this was not girl coming to visit an elderly relative for a mere chat.
  • She was a woman of spiritual perception (v. 42): "Blessed are you among women," she exclaimed to Mary, "and blessed is the fruit of your womb."
  • She was a woman of humility (v. 43): She is amazed and grateful that this privilege - the privilege of the mother of the Lord Jesus coming to visit her - has been given to her.
  • She was a woman of encouragement (v. 44): She goes on to tell Mary that as soon as she heard Mary's voice, the child in her womb leaped for joy. Mary needed to hear some words affirming her, celebrating her. Here she was a young girl, unmarried and pregnant. Most adults would be telling her to be quiet, to stay hidden. Her family possibly would have disowned her. Joseph had the right to stone her if he believed she had been cheating on him. She was terrified. But Elizabeth talked about joy! And the reason she could do so is that her joy was rooted in God.
  • She was a woman who had good relationships with her neighbours and relatives (vv. 57, 58): When Elizabeth rejoiced, the neighbours rejoiced.

One other thing that occurred to me while listening to Dad was this:

  • She used her position for good (v. 42): Everyone lived in very close proximity with their neighbours in those ancient cities. Zachariah was one of the select priests who were eligible to draw for the privilege of entering the temple's Holy of Holies area - a privilege permitted only once in a priest's lifetime.  He was well respected, a force of authority in the community.  Everyone knew that he and Elizabeth lived lives above reproach. And yet here was Elizabeth proclaiming in "a loud voice" to this shrinking, trembling girl who people would soon start realising was pregnant-and-unmarried, "Blessed are you among women!" The neighbours, spying and eavesdropping on the goings-on at the priest's house, would nod sagely and say, "If it's good enough for Elizabeth, it's good enough for me ..."
Where are the Elizabeths who can minister to the overwhelmed Marys in our community today? The Elizabeths who will understand the person, who will perceive their need? The Elizabeths of true humility? The Elizabeths of encouragement - the ones who will strengthen their own hearts and the hearts of those around them?

The word translated "speak comfortably" often can be translated "speak to the heart." Elizabeth cut through generations and social mores and preconceived ideas and instant judgment and spoke comfort and encouragement and strength directly into the heart of this nervous teenager who in reality could have been just 15 years old, the age of my little Jocelyn who works so hard at the TH every weekend.

There are many Marys who are crying out to be heard, to be understood, to be encouraged. When the rug seems to have been pulled out from under their feet, they need an Elizabeth to laugh with them, to weep with them, to listen, to give sage advice. They need to be able to sit at this senior woman's feet and learn from her, as Mary did for three months before she finally felt ready to return to her own little village.

I can think of some Marys off the top of my head: there's my Mary whose own family has all but rejected her and she has no mother that she can count on to keep her loved and grounded and encouraged through one of the darkest years of her life. Her losses have been incalculable - the loss of a precious father-in-law, of a baby never born, of trust, of the future she had planned. The uncertainty of the new year looms large for her.

And then there's my Mary who wants to be self-sufficient, who doesn't want to show any sign of weakness, but who has to live with great burdens that sometimes threaten to crack the maquillage cleverly painted on her face, that beautiful face that very few are permitted to catch glimpses of beneath the surface self-containment. 

There's my Mary whose marriage is shaky at best, but who has a child and who will sacrifice almost anything to do what is best for her child.

I have a Mary who's not sure exactly what to do with her life, not sure even who she is. There's a Mary who thinks that her life is over because she frittered a decade or so of it away.

I have a Mary about to embark on a journey to another continent, wrestling with the changes this will bring into her life.

And I have Elizabeths in my life too: Myrna, and Brenda, and Geri, and Doreen, and Naomi, and Irma, women who have taken me into their homes and their lives and hearts and who have listened to me and laughed and cried with me. Women who have prayed with me and pray for me.

Women who model the kind of love that Elizabeth showed Mary that day and in the three months that followed when Mary stayed with her and learnt what it meant to be a woman who would truly be able to live those beautiful words she uttered to the angel on that fateful day, "Be it unto me according to thy word."


  1. Nice work -- again! May there be an Elizabeth for every Mary who is out there. Isn't it the Mary in a woman, that makes the Elizabeth in her!

  2. This is such an interesting take on the story. Trust Dad to see it! Trust you to pass it on so well! As I read, I thought that you are truly an Elizabeth, and we thank you for it. It's not about age nor about gender, but about wisdom and openness and compassion and care for the vulnerable in each individual. This was a great challenge and call for the year ahead. Thank you.

  3. yes, karyn, you truly are an elizabeth, and i am so incredibly thankful for you.

    so thankful for the insights and wisdom of your dad that you pass on to those of us who desperately need it.

    lots of love to you...

  4. I agree with Andy's comment too. Experiencing the fear and pain of life can bring the possibility of later sharing the hope and comfort that comes from God. Mary's story, with God in the centre, leads to Elizabeth's story in later time. A great encouragement to us all.


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