Our gospel lesson today tells the story of the angel’s revelation to Mary that she is to become the mother of the son of God. We encourage you to read this story on your own; it is found in the first chapter of Luke, verses 26 through 45. This morning, our consideration of this text again employs the ancient Jewish practice of midrash, the rabbinic method of expanding the narrative, adding details to the story which to highlight the meaning of the original text. (You might remember this is how we encountered the gospel texts this past Palm Sunday and also to tell the story of Rizpah in July.) This midrash was composed by Nikole Mitchell.
Image: A Dream Confirmed by Lisle Gwynn Garrity, A Sanctified Art
And just like that, the angel disappeared as quickly as he had arrived. Vanished. Gone. With no evidence to prove to others that an angel had indeed visited the frightened and dazed Mary. No evidence for Mary herself to force her to realize it wasn’t a dream but a reality that was taking shape quite literally within her. She was miraculously, unexpectedly, impossibly pregnant.
Her eyes were still adjusting to normal daylight after encountering the angel’s bright light and her ears were still ringing with the loaded and perplexing news he had shared with her. As her mind scrambled to make sense of what was just announced and done to her, she kept returning to the thought of her cousin Elizabeth. She had heard from the village that Elizabeth had become some sort of recluse, where she refused to leave her house, and even turned guests away when family and friends tried to visit her. People were wondering if she was becoming mentally ill. If the weight and shame of her barrenness and old age were finally overtaking her, and that maybe this was the beginning of the end for Elizabeth.
But now Mary knew. She knew why her cousin Elizabeth had been in seclusion all these months. She was pregnant! Miraculously, unbelievably pregnant just like Mary, and she was waiting for the right time to announce it to the world – not with her words but with the growing evidence of her six month pregnant belly. Oh, Mary was so grateful that there was one person who would understand her predicament.
But how would she prove to Elizabeth that an angel, indeed, had visited her? How will she prove the radical news of her own miraculous pregnancy without any physical proof? There was no baby belly or morning sickness, just her ringing ears and slight headache from the brilliant light of the angel. How will Elizabeth believe her?
Well, Mary couldn’t give it too much thought, for she was too anxious to run and be with her cousin and hope to find some form of comfort, some understanding of this bizarre and scary predicament she found herself in.
As Mary packed for her trip, she couldn’t help but think of her parents. How will her own parents believe her? They’ll think she’s become mentally ill just like her cousin Elizabeth when Mary tries to explain to them she had been visited by an angel. A poor peasant girl visited by an angel? That’s such nonsense. That’s child’s play. Yes, the people in her village believed God cared for and looked out for the lowly, but to visit and speak such radical news over a young peasant girl? That was over the top. No one would believe her. Once the village members started seeing her growing belly, they would only see the results of a promiscuous girl. There is no way they would believe in her miraculous conception. What blasphemy, in fact, they would tell Mary, for using God’s name as an excuse to be unfaithful to Joseph. This thought terrified Mary.
Oh, and what of Joseph? How on earth will she explain to her husband-to-be that she truly has been faithful to him when her belly starts to show? How will she explain it all to him?
Before Mary could panic even more, she hastily grabbed her packed bags and hurried off to visit her cousin Elizabeth in the countryside. In her haste, Mary told her neighbor to let her parents know where she went and that she didn’t know when she’d be back but that she’ll be okay. Everything will be okay. At least that’s what Mary kept telling herself, trying to convince herself, while she walked as quickly as she could to Elizabeth’s village.
Upon arrival, Mary didn’t know what she was going to say to Elizabeth. She rehearsed her story a hundred different ways on her journey but none of them seemed to do her story and the angel’s visit any justice. Before Mary could finalize on a story to tell Elizabeth, she came upon Elizabeth’s house, and before her fear could make her turn and run away in panic, Mary burst through the front door and cried out, “Elizabeth!” It came across as more of a desperate cry than an actual greeting, but, at this point, it was all Mary could do to keep herself from bursting into tears. As Mary choked back tears and wondered what words to follow her greeting, Elizabeth thankfully filled the void with her own voice, and instead of a formal greeting, Elizabeth too cried out—but into a song of joy! She knew! Somehow Elizabeth knew! Mary, relieved from not having to explain herself to Elizabeth, ran to her older cousin and collapsed into her arms. Elizabeth pulled her in close and Mary, exhausted and afraid, burst into tears.
Elizabeth, wiser and older than Mary by many years and many life experiences, held onto Mary and gently rocked their bodies back and forth. Elizabeth, too, had been afraid of the news of her own impossible, unexpected pregnancy. But she had the benefit of being married and had the past five months to digest the news, to feel the baby start kicking in her womb, and to watch her belly grow. As she prepared to tell her village of her pregnancy, she didn’t realize she was also being prepared to be a source of strength for her own little cousin from across the way. Sweet little Mary. How frightened she must be. Elizabeth felt a deep gratitude toward their God, for not only blessing them both with miraculous pregnancies that were going to change the world, but for blessing them with pregnancies at the same time. The journey ahead of them was lonely enough; Elizabeth was grateful that, at least for a few months, they could be each other’s companions on this mystical, mystery road of motherhood.
As Mary wept into her arms, Elizabeth reminded Mary that while there is much to fear, there is also much to celebrate. That their pregnancies were not just for them, but for the salvation of the world. The fact that God would use two women like themselves was almost too much to take in.
The two women were quiet for a while. At some point, Mary’s weeping ceased.
Just a few moments ago, Mary had been almost consumed with panic and fear. But now, somehow, almost as miraculous as her pregnancy, was this new peace Mary felt deep within her. Mary had been able to draw strength from the body and faith and wisdom of her older cousin. And her cousin had drawn strength from her.
Nothing externally had changed. Mary was still somehow pregnant. Mary still had to tell her parents and Joseph. Mary’s village was going to see her pregnant belly no matter how hard she might try to hide it. There was still going to be judgment, shame, and possibly even punishment by her parents and ostracization by her community.
But something had shifted inside of her….
In her earlier state of panic, Mary couldn’t see beyond the tears in her eyes. But now it’s almost like God gave her eyes for the future. She saw the bigger picture. She saw the coming of her Savior entering the world for the salvation of all people, for the healing of the broken, the liberation of the oppressed, the toppling of the empire, and she, of all people, was going to play a key role in that. She and her cousin Elizabeth. A barren elder and a young virgin girl. Mary could almost sense God’s humor in it all… that God would choose to use the two most unlikely candidates to bring his Kingdom on earth made her almost want to laugh. It seemed absurd and breathtakingly beautiful at the same time!
And, somehow, without any communication between the two, or maybe it was the communication between their two spirits, Mary and Elizabeth started to chuckle at the same time. And when they saw the other chuckling, they both couldn’t help but burst into gut-wrenching laughter! Tears streamed down their faces as they hugged and laughed and cried some more. These two women were about to change history, and nobody knew it.
Not yet at least.
So the two of them soaked it in, basked in the absurdity of it all, and found a strength and joy they didn’t know they had.
For a moment, they felt ready, as ready as they could be, whether or not the world was ready for them.