As we come to Christmas it is the mark that another year is almost over. This rhythm of the year often brings us to reflection on the year that has passed. If we have experienced the unexpected this year, Christmas can make the rawness of that a more jarring experience. This year has been full of the unexpected for me and the end of the year has brought a sense of needing to rest and rebuild as I move into 2020.
I wonder if you have also faced the unexpected this year. Perhaps the unexpected was joyful and exciting like gaining a new family member, achieving a milestone or goal that you didn’t think would happen. Or perhaps for you the unexpected has been hard and draining. Maybe you have experienced loss or illness or some other confronting challenge this year. Or perhaps you have been confronted with the unexpected things that are impacting our country and our world. The widespread bushfires across NSW, the drought that continues to persist month after month, the recent volcano eruption in New Zealand, the world governments fostering a sense of distrust for those who are other than us, even when those are the most vulnerable around us. The unexpected in our own lives and in the lives around us can be deeply unsettling.
As a result, maybe, you are finding it hard to see a reason to celebrate this year as we come into Christmas. Maybe your year has been so filled with stress and busyness that Christmas has become something to endure or survive rather than celebrate.
But the story of Elizabeth and Mary in Luke 1:39-43 shows us a different response to the unexpected. There are not one but two unexpected pregnancies. One woman is pregnant much later in her life than she would have ever dreamed of bearing a child. In the culture of the day, she has lived a life of shame not being able to produce an heir or even a child for her husband. And yet all of a sudden, her shame is taken away. And we see another woman pregnant before she is even married, a scandal especially in the honour shame society of the time. One pregnancy takes away a life of shame and the other starts one. It is no wonder that Mary runs to her relative Elizabeth, who knows what it is to face shame. We see Mary welcomed into their home, not despised or rejected but loved and cared for, for three whole months! And even amongst the shame and the unexpected, God is working incredibly to redeem both of these women, to take away their shame and to incorporate them into his salvation story. He sees these two women and their stories, and their faithfulness and he works in and through the unexpected.
When Mary arrives, Elizabeth is immediately filled with the Holy Spirit and she prophecies over Mary. This image of Elizabeth filled with the Spirit points back to the judges, kings and prophets of the Old Testament. When the Holy Spirit comes upon them, he provides them with wisdom and understanding from God. The Holy Spirit enables Elizabeth to recognise that there is something very special about the child Mary is carrying and to call this child the Lord in verse 43.
Elizabeth recognises that this baby is the promised Lord who Israel has been waiting for. And she responds by calling out blessing to Mary and to Mary’s unborn child. Mary is blessed among all women and is highly honoured to be seen by God, and for the privilege of being the mother of our Lord and Saviour. At times I think we can be fearful of talking about Mary in order to set ourselves apart from those who overly elevate her. But we can learn a lot from her and her response to God. She is ultimately blessed because of her faith and obedience to God, which Elizabeth reminds us that Mary has believed the Lord.
It is not just Elizabeth who celebrates God’s blessing on Mary, the baby in her womb leaps with joy. This is pretty remarkable for a 28-week baby still in his mother’s womb would respond with joy. And this joy is in response to the presence of the Lord in Mary’s womb.
This story is a powerful vision of two mothers who find solace in one another through the unexpected and who celebrate the hope they have in God. A hope of the promised messiah that is about to be fulfilled in their own lifetime and by a God who will use both sons to fulfil his plans and purposes.
And I wonder do we still respond with such joy and celebration to the news of God becoming flesh in the person of Jesus? It is easy to become so desensitised to the story of the gospel that it no longer fills us with joy and wonder. I can’t say that lately I have leaped for joy at Christmas in celebrating the coming of our Lord and Saviour. I wonder have you?
Maybe right now you feel lost or exhausted from the year that has been. You are just so tired and worn out that you would rather skip Christmas this year, lie on a beach and recover. Maybe you are finding it hard to be joyful this year. I know at times recently I have felt this. Wondering how to remember to be joyful and celebrate Jesus’ coming into the world.
And yet this is the good news of our remarkable God! Our God who made the universe entered into our world by becoming a baby. He was not born to an impressive woman in society. But a faithful one who chose to bear the cost of shame of being pregnant before marriage in order to serve God. Jesus is the unexpected saviour, he lived and died and rose again to restore us to relationship with God rather than just battling the Roman rulers. I am encouraged in this to not lose heart when the unexpected comes our way. Our God still is a God who sees us, his beloved children and is working to draw each of us to himself. My prayer is that we will be people who see the gospel message fresh again this year, when it reaches our ears, let us delight and be filled with joy with the hope that has been set before us.
Louisa lives in Carlingford, Sydney with her husband Simon. Louisa is currently studying a Masters of Divinity at SMBC. Louisa also works as a registered nurse. She has a heart to see women pursue their callings in serving God with their whole life.