The gift of faith

Anna McGahan reflects on the longings of Mary and Elizabeth.


Anna McGahan is an actor and writer based in Melbourne.

The gift of faith

Anna McGahan reflects on the choice to believe in God’s goodness through the waiting.

Daily Reading Luke 1:39-56

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

And Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home.

‘And blessed is she who believed there would be fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.’

Elizabeth’s words to Mary in this intimate moment between cousins never cease to pierce me, as if Elizabeth were speaking to me, too. I am struck by the declaration – that perhaps I too am blessed, as I choose to believe in God’s goodness through the waiting – that space between what has been prophetically declared, and what is yet to be. That when active, passionate belief meets with my longing, my God will not put me to shame.

Active belief is difficult – it isn’t the sceptical, nervous wait for an outcome, testing God’s character and hoping He proves my doubt wrong. Belief is defiant. Bursting and bold, but also gentle and quiet.

I wonder if many Christians in my community have experienced a degree of shame around bold, declarative faith. I know I have. It’s uncomfortable, particularly in an age where ‘thoughts and prayers’ are scoffed at and dismissed, and the Christians in sport, media and politics are often presented as hypocritical or idiotic for having faith in an ‘invisible man’ whilst publicly denying necessary truths. Belief is risky. What if we’re wrong? Dare we suggest God would bless us? Doesn’t such a thought emit a whiff of ‘prosperity gospel’? Who am I, to believe for the fulfillment of God’s promises in my own life, when there is so much unmet suffering in the world? Is it appropriately humble – wise, even – to lower my expectations of God’s purposes for my life, and make peace with disappointment or permanent longing? Suffering is surely more Christ-like than blessing, right?

I’m not so sure.

Mary and Elizabeth’s remarkable postures towards God remind me over and again that it is all in our perspectives, and the position of our hearts.

In these scriptures, the task before Mary is of extraordinary stakes, and the long-term burden unimaginable – but this teenage girl has eyes only for the blessing at hand. She is seen, heard and remembered by Yahweh. Her gift of faith is expressed through spontaneous worship – a song of surrender, praise, and identity. She extols God and His character, and she pinpoints the magnificent truth of the Gospel – that the small and humble will behold and inherit what the proud and greedy cannot: Yeshua, the Saviour. The ultimate portion.

These scriptures do not assure me that God will give me every desire of my heart – but they model a bold faith I can learn from. A longing I can learn from. The longing of a young and relatively powerless girl, who actively believed her God would fulfil His promises to her, not because of who she was, but because of who she knew He was, who He continues to be into eternity.

We Are Longing: An Advent series from Common Grace