Read Luke 1:46-55

After finding out she’s pregnant, Mary runs to see her cousin Elizabeth.  Elizabeth declares that Mary is blessed, because she believed what she’d been told by the Lord. In Luke 1:46-55, we hear Mary echo this sense of blessedness in her hymn of praise.

Mary’s hymn, which is also known as the “Magnificat,” is a lot like the hymn of praise sung by Hannah who, like Elizabeth, had grown old before she’d been able to have a baby (see 1 Sam 2:1-10).  Here, after the announcement of two unexpected (and seemingly impossible) pregnancies, we hear Mary rejoicing that God has looked upon her with favor.

46 And Mary[a] said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

While today almost half of all babies are born to women who are not married, pregnancy outside of wedlock has long held social stigma. The consequences for pregnancy outside of marriage in Mary’s time would have been more severe than any 1950’s social taboo we can imagine. For Mary, this truly would have been a crisis! We don’t know why Mary runs to Elizabeth, but we can imagine she would have been frightened, and maybe needed the advice of an older woman. Instead of shaming Mary for being pregnant before marriage, Elizabeth rejoices, and tells Mary she is blessed. This word of affirmation allows Mary to see herself as blessed, and thank God for looking favorably upon her.

Elizabeth, who the text suggests is too old to be a mother, and Mary, who is unwed, both conceive in unexpected circumstances. While advent is a time of preparation when we get ready to celebrate the arrival of God’s presence through the gift of Christ, it’s important that we remember how unexpected and perhaps uncomfortable Jesus’ arrival was. Advent – and in particular Mary’s Song – also offers a wonderful opportunity for us to reflect on how we respond to unexpected crises in our own lives.

For reflection:

Elizabeth’s response to Mary empowers Mary to see herself as blessed. How can our response to suffering influence the way people experience unexpected or complicated life situations?

Christians often think of God as revealing himself through power and might, but Mary’s song speaks of a God who shows strength by lifting up the “lowly” and “hungry” and bringing down the rich and powerful. In what ways have you seen God’s presence revealed in places of suffering or humility?

By Alison Burchett; she grew up at WPC and is currently in her third year of a Master of Divinity program at Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, NJ.Alison Burchett photo