Chelsea Van Der Poel explores how regardless the season, God's goodness creates a hopeful new day.
On the twenty-second day of Advent, 2021, Karen Pack encourages us to welcome the new thing God is doing through the people we least expect.
In solidarity with grace
The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.
Luke 1:30-38 NRSV
When Gabriel announces to Mary that she is pregnant with the Son of God, the response is not all party poppers and selfies. Mary has questions, legitimate doubts. But Gabriel responds by pointing Mary to her cousin, Elizabeth, and announcing a second impossible pregnancy. Barren Elizabeth is bursting with new life. This, too, is a miracle.
In what follows, Mary – an unmarried, pregnant teen – approaches Elizabeth, whose response is full of humility. Elizabeth isn’t rushing to tell her story, she is responsive to what God is doing, and amazed that she gets to be a part of it. Elizabeth has reason to make Mary sit and listen to her, insist that she gets heard, and gets to say how incredibly blessed she is. But instead of boasting, Elizabeth encourages and confirms what God is doing in Mary’s life.
While Mary might have expected stares and whispers from people, Elizabeth becomes a companion on the journey. Someone who gets it. Someone who rejoices instead of gossips.
Elizabeth understands that the life she is carrying is testimony enough; her role is to help Mary to welcome and celebrate the new thing God is doing. Elizabeth conveys a sense of privilege and favour that she can walk with Mary as she births God’s plan for the redemption of the world.
Mary responds with the Magnificat. With worship, awe and gratitude. But this wasn’t Mary’s first response. There is a sizable gap between Gabriel’s announcement and Mary’s song.
So how did Mary arrive at joy and worship? It took Elizabeth. Mary was expecting scorn and shame. Instead, she was celebrated and encouraged.
Elizabeth could have insisted that Mary sit and listen to her, celebrate her news, and honour her. She is, after all, the older woman. A priest’s wife. Noble. Respected. Privileged.
But instead of insisting on her rights, Elizabeth lays aside her privilege to celebrate Mary. She confirms that what is happening is no cause for shame, but a work of God. She humbles herself and honours Mary. And her encouragement leads Mary to confidence and joy.
You might be thinking about times you wished you had an Elizabeth to celebrate God’s work in you and who you are. I get that. But today I want to ask: who needs you to be an Elizabeth? Who needs you to help them welcome the new thing God is doing in their life?
Karen Pack is Director of UNPACKED International and co-pastor of New City Church, on Gadigal Country in Sydney – a home for ‘spiritual refugees’ who feel unwelcome in traditional churches. Karen is driven by a desire to empower young leaders with a sense of their own value and the beauty they bring to the world.
God of love and grace, thank you for calling me to be a part of your work in the world. Thank you for declaring me worthy. Help me to rest in that. Teach me to lay down my rights, and to celebrate the new things you are doing, so that others would begin to rejoice in what you are doing in and through them. To those questioning their value, or their place in your kingdom, help me to declare: ‘You are worthy! You are loved! What is in you is the work of God’s Spirit!’ Amen.
Photograph: Amanda Halihan, Sunrise, Blackheath, Blue Mountains, Dharug and Gundungurra Country, New South Wales.
Visual Description: The rising sunlight shines through small yellow wattle flowers.