I recently took some time to open my Bible and re-read the Christmas story directly from its original source – a novel idea, I know. While reading, I noticed a key detail about Mary’s journey that had never jumped out at me before. This detail opened my eyes to another layer of God’s perfect love within the Christmas story.
I’d forgotten that the story actually begins with Mary’s relative, Elizabeth. She and her husband, Zechariah, had never been able to have children, and at that point, both were well past the age of fertility. But the angel Gabriel visited Zechariah and told him that Elizabeth, though old and barren, would give birth to a son who would prepare people for the coming Messiah. When’s the last time you saw an elderly woman get pregnant?
But sure enough, Elizabeth became pregnant with a son, and while she was still pregnant, the same angel – Gabriel – went to Mary and told her,
“The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is 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 no word from God will ever fail.” (Luke 1:35-37)
Pause. Now, imagine you’re Mary, a young, poor, VIRGIN currently engaged to Joseph, and Gabriel assures you that you’re about to conceive with Someone else. I mean – really think about how scary and insane this all must have sounded!
But when we think this through, we can see that God had already laid some key groundwork to make this news more palatable to Mary. He had given one of her own relatives a miraculous pregnancy. Granted, not as miraculous as becoming impregnated by the Holy Spirit, but nonetheless, miraculous. If I were Mary, I probably would have taken the news about Elizabeth and thought, “This sounds crazy, BUT, if God can give Elizabeth a miracle baby, who am I to doubt His plans for me?”
Obviously, God sending an angel to Mary was a huge sign, but He didn’t stop there. God also used Elizabeth to reassure her that yes, HE was in this. Just as He had used Elizabeth for His magnificent plan, He would now also use Mary.
After Gabriel left Mary, she hurried to see Elizabeth. As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s voice, her baby leapt inside of her AND she felt the Holy Spirit telling her to say, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear! Why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:42-43)
Mary replied to Elizabeth with praise to God saying, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant” (Luke 1:47-48). She then stayed with Elizabeth for three months.
I find this aspect of the story so inspiring. Our God is a personal God who understands and meets each of our particular needs, while fulfilling His overall plan. He interweaved these women’s stories because one day, Elizabeth’s son – John the Baptist – would pre-announce and prepare the world for Mary’s son – Jesus the Messiah; this was the ultimate purpose of bringing them together. BUT, I also think God connected Mary and Elizabeth so they could be companions throughout their pregnancies, supporting each other during a time in each of their lives when literally no other women on earth could relate to their unique situations.
When re-reading this story, I can’t help but wonder what types of conversations Mary and Elizabeth were having during those three months they spent together. They must have been filled with so many conflicting emotions (excitement, confusion, wonder, fear), but how special it must have been for them to be able to lean on each other. These two probably took girl-bonding to a whole new level!
I know it might sound silly, but I imagine Mary and Elizabeth’s conversations because God has blessed my own life with fellow believers who have helped me through some of my hardest times. He has placed special friends in my life to inspire me, bring me closer to Him and to remind me of His goodness even when I had doubts.
How cool is it that in His special love for each of us, God takes care to work things out for us – like Mary and Elizabeth’s relationship – at the same time as working out His overall plan – for the salvation of all of mankind through His Son.
I’m so grateful we have a God who takes the time and energy to carefully work out even the smallest details in our lives. His miracles are in the big and small things – sometimes realizing it just takes a closer look.