Mary is a young woman, who has just learnt she is pregnant. She responded with fear (1:29), then confusion (1:34), and finally with belief (1:38). In her culture this would have led to a high likelihood that she would be divorced and shamed for falling pregnant out of wedlock, yet she is willing to be the Lord’s servant. Having received this message from the angel Gabriel she hurries to Elizabeth’s home.
Elizabeth is an older woman, and childless (1:7). In that culture she would have been shamed as a barren woman and a sense of ‘fault’ attributed to Elizabeth for this, either because of her own sinfulness or that of her family line. A woman’s primary purpose was to bear children. I imagine at the water cooler, she was the shunned woman as all of the other woman talked about their children and compared their growth and achievements.
What I love about this passage is the way God is turning the world upside down before he was even born. Elizabeth an older barren woman is to have a child who will pave the way for the Messiah, born of a younger unmarried Mary. More than that, as the two women meet, Elizabeth recognises Mary’s pregnancy by the work of the Spirit and proceeds to proclaim a blessing over her. She does not shun her, she is not excluded or sent away. She is welcomed and greeted with incredible honour. Elizabeth’s own experience of shaming and social judgment has been reversed (1:25) and now she responds to the leading of the Spirit and speaks honour and life over Mary. What might have bought Mary shame and dishonour Elizabeth speaks of in a way that brings joy and honour.
Jesus turned many social customs on their heads, bringing honour to those who had been dishonoured, welcoming those who had been excluded and lifting the lowly and downtrodden. Even before he is born, we see God at work here through his Spirit demonstrating the values of his Kingdom. How might we today seek to be responsive to God’s Spirit and demonstrate his Kingdom values in our lives?