God uses faithful women!
Luke 1:39-56 stands out as the only time in the New Testament that a meaningful conversation between two women is recorded. There is another example of women speaking together – when Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James and Salome went to anoint Jesus’ body with spices, “they were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?'” (Mark 16:3) – but this is not a developed discourse. So, this beautiful portrait of two very special women, encouraging one another in their Godly destinies is significant. What does God want to say to us through the intimate meeting between Mary, who had recently been told she would bear the Messiah and her cousin Elizabeth, who was six months pregnant with John the Baptist? Let’s have a look at the narrative.
Following the Angel Gabriel’s news that Elizabeth is expecting, Mary hastens to the hill country, to a town in Judah, believed to be Hebron, to see her older relative. At the sound of Mary’s voice, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy and she is filled with the Holy Spirit. She cries out loudly to Mary, (42-45) “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
Elizabeth had no way of knowing the facts that she declared over Mary’s life – they were given to her as prophecy by the Holy Spirit. It must have been so affirming for Mary to hear these words as confirmation of the Angel Gabriel’s message and to be able to share with Elizabeth the wonder and excitement of being chosen by God to give birth to His son. Elizabeth is clearly delighted at Mary’s situation, proclaiming that both she and the fruit of her womb are blessed (v42). She acknowledges the magnitude of Mary’s role by deferring to her in verse 43, even though it would be customary for a younger woman to defer to an older one. Not only is Elizabeth encouraging to Mary in terms of the impending pregnancy, but she also commends Mary for her belief in the fulfilment of God’s word. This contrasts with her husband Zechariah’s unbelief at the angel’s message to him! We sense such joy in Elizabeth’s words and generosity of spirit in her interest in Mary’s well-being. Despite the fact that she is carrying her very own miracle baby, Elizabeth’s focus is on Mary.
Mary, in turn is wholly supportive to Elizabeth. Her prayer, known as the ‘Magnificat’, is an outpouring of worship and praise to God, and has many similarities with Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-10, with which Elizabeth would have identified and been encouraged. Both Hannah and Elizabeth were barren for many years until God blessed them with a child. In Hannah’s case, the boy was Samuel, the prophet who anointed the first two Kings of Israel. Elizabeth’s son was also to usher in a King – King Jesus! Luke 1:17b tells us that John the Baptist’s role is “to make ready for the Lord a people prepared”. Both Mary’s and Hannah’s prayers start by thanking God for His favour on them and expressing their joy in Him. They give all the glory to God and praise His holiness, mercy, strength, justice, provision and faithfulness. Both prayers to some extent foreshadow the Lord’s prayer that Jesus will share with His disciples.
Mary had a sound knowledge of Scripture and was inspired by the Holy Spirit as she prophesied. Elizabeth, as one of the ‘daughters of Aaron’ (the priestly line), would have recognised the references to Hannah’s prayer and been heartened by Mary’s words and the allusion to her predecessor. Mary is an absolute model of humility. No-one on earth could have been more blessed than Mary. If John had leapt in Elizabeth’s womb at only the sound of Mary’s voice, can you imagine how Mary must have felt carrying the baby Jesus? And yet, at the beginning of her prayer, after recognising the honour that has been bestowed on her, she immediately gives the glory to God. She doesn’t become proud of how God is using her; instead, she retains a thankful heart, submissive to God.
What is it then that God wants us to see through this meeting?
First and foremost, He is showing us His love and value for women; Mary was ‘favoured’ (v28) and Elizabeth, along with her husband, ‘righteous before God’ (v6). God loves women as much as He loves men. He does not discriminate. God esteems the special characteristics He has given to women which make them different from men and likewise the male characteristics that make men different from women. God loves men and women equally. “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Men and women are both ‘made in his image’; women are not an inferior design to men, despite the fact they are not given the same amount of print!
Secondly, God demonstrates that women have an important place in His purpose and plan. At a time when the world is about to change through these two pregnancies, the picture we have of Elizabeth and Mary is not of two women planning a baby shower and getting their knitting needles out; it’s of two blessed women of God, praising and prophesying. They minister to God and to one another through the power of the Holy Spirit. They were the chosen vessels to deliver God’s salvation plan to the world and He carries out a symbolic restoration work through Mary for womankind: Eve ate the fruit that destroyed, Mary would bear the fruit that redeemed.
Thirdly, God affirms different personality types. Elizabeth has been living a secluded lifestyle for the last six months and her husband has been rendered mute, so she hasn’t had anyone to chat to until Mary comes along. I imagine her to be quite a vivacious person, as when she is filled with the spirit she cries out loudly to Mary. Mary, on the other hand is a deep thinker. In Luke 2:19, we learn ‘Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart’. God gives us licence to be who He created us to be!
I thank God for this insight into His love for us all, men and women alike.