In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
We watched Juno last night. Yes, a pregnant teenager movie. No, not a deliberate Advent evening activity. Just escapism at the end of an under-the-weather weekend and a week of sick kids. We’re all feeling better-ish now, but last night we were tired so the Spouse and I did what the doctors order and flaked out in front of a movie with tea. I like Juno. Quirky language. Fun characters. Enough heartache to be real, but not too much for our Sunday night. Heartwarming. But in a good way.
There’s a scene near the end when Juno finally tells Bleeker that she loves him – she says that every time she sees him, her baby starts to kick a lot. She thinks that it’s because her own heart starts to thump.
Which made me think about Elizabeth.
Let’s imagine her for a moment. She’s probably sitting down, putting her feet up, thinking that this pregnancy thing is built for younger bodies. Then she hears someone come into the house and before she can start to wonder if Zechariah is coping fine with the write-and-read method, her heart starts to thunder and her baby does a double-axel and she knows.
And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
Blessing, blessing, blessing.
At St Andrew’s Church in Ottawa yesterday, the congregation considered this passage. They have a great congregational blog– each week, someone from the congregation posts reflections on the service. This is what struck me from this week’s post.
“Andrew spoke about how we, like pregnant Elizabeth, can feel an expectant kick when we’re close to the spirit. I think I felt that kick of recognition this morning.”
A powerful Advent image as we wait for Christmas. Double-axels indeed.
In the Gospel of Luke, story and song are linked together to spotlight God’s hidden work, and here it is most wonderful hidden work. Hidden in these two unlikely women’s bellies, God is growing the kingdom. Hidden, but not for long. Both of their pregnancies become scandalously public – Elizabeth because she was barren and perhaps, too, because of Zechariah’s mysterious silence throughout her pregnancy. And Mary because of her youth, her singleness, her husband who does the ‘wrong’ thing and stays by her side. And in all this strange hidden and visible growth, God is at work.
This passage also made me think about homes. There is, of course, a sense of away to the story. Mary has travelled to reach Elizabeth’s home, and the reading concludes when Mary “then returned to her home.” But we know that she doesn’t stay there. Home for a few months, then off to Bethlehem on another journey. And then off again, to Egypt. No nesting for Mary. No nursery to paint. Mary’s homes are temporary, though her rootedness is secure.
Which, in a hard Advent like this one, is comfort. Our rootedness is secure. Our home is beyond whatever walls that shelter us. There will be a greater home-coming. There will be a greater welcome. This is our comfort and our assurance. But this is also our road. The one that traces the way through this broken world, which is our broken world where sometimes all we can do is weep with each other like the people of Newtown CT and around the world. Weep and howl. Hold onto each other. And listen. Where we have to be brave. This isn’t the message I wanted to read in the gospel passage, but it’s the one I found there today.
Last week, this passage came up in our family Advent calendar and we spent too long at the breakfast table sharing it, imagining members of our own family cast in the different parts. (The kids loved the idea of their leggy blond cousin Sarah as the pregnant Mary.) We had a lot of fun with it last week. But reading this story today, I hear the ache of travel and worries about safety, the anxieties of motherhood, the nightmares and the knowledge that we can never hold our children close enough. Because, of course, neither of these women could. And if they can’t – with their angel-proclaimed pregnancies and their history-shakingly significant sons, how can we? The road is dangerous.
Next week, we’ll light the candle of Love and tell the story of Mary and Joseph. We’ll wonder together about their fears and their hope, their dangers and their peace, the worry and the joy of it all. But it is their home, their rootedness, that is the centre of the story. And for these wandering people, just like the rest of us, the only real home is Love.
Love is the moment when our hearts thunder, and we feel something inside us leap. Love is the moment when the Spirit draws close.