Two women, one story, woven together by the God of all creation who designated their time and place to be the fullness of time. Then to think of their experiences, they could not be more different although with some similarities, same God, both righteous and favored by God for the important jobs of raising two boys, one the predecessor, the announcer, to let people know that the Messiah was coming, and the other raising the Son of God, the Savior of the world. Both women full of faith, full of courage, and full of hope.
Elizabeth lived many years with shame that existed in a culture that said women who could not bare children had some sort of sin, or God was not pleased with them, but we know that is not true, when the story opens in Luke, Zechariah and Elizabeth are declared righteous by God. Her barrenness was a saving of her for “such a time as this”. Elizabeth in her role had her shame lifted. Mary on the other hand was a young woman full of purity and promise. She was marriage material to an honorable man until she became part of the story, and then shame was now her label from others. Impure, unholy, disrespectful, yet, that is not what God was doing, she was highly favored in God’s sight.
Elizabeth brought lots of talk to the village when people realized that she and Zechariah were going to have a baby, and the courage she showed when it was time to name that baby and declaring his name is John, and then Zechariah declaring the same, then prophesying a song over Israel and then over his son. The excitement in this moment for all the people must have been so amazing. The celebration must have been huge, and all the people around must have sang and danced, and proclaimed blessings over John and his family for many years. Mary, on the other hand, also blessed by God, ends up in a stable far from her home town delivering her baby in a stable with the animals. I would hope that the ladies of the home, and immediate village warmed up to Mary and Joseph and Jesus after he was born, but we are not told. We are told that a bunch of shepherds show up and are so excited about this baby because of a large choir of angels let them in on this secret, or what seemed like a secret as it happens in the night on the back side of Bethlehem. The angels sing on the countryside to the shepherds instead of at the stable over the baby, so interesting to me. And within a couple of years of settling down in Joseph’s town of origin, possibly far away from her family, some wise men from another country show up with great gifts for the baby. They followed a star, and even though all the priests know where to direct the wise men, it does not appear that any followed to worship and meet their savior. Mary ends up on the run with Joseph to protect this baby from his own people.
As I continue to wonder and marvel, and sit still with this amazing story so well orchestrated by God in the fullness of time, I noticed something that had not jumped out at me before, pondering and treasuring up all that was seen and said about these children. In Elizabeth’s story, in Luke 1:66 it says, “All who heard them (the words of Zechariah) pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.” The whole village was watching, wondering, pondering, and treasuring this great event of John being born. In Mary’s story we see pondering and treasuring also in Luke 2:19, “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Just Mary holding onto the gifts, piecing together the events and what was told her. She had her song before the nine months of being an outcast, her song came before she left for her fiancee’s hometown to give birth in a barn. Her song came before her visitors that were all strangers, some from another land. She alone was left to ponder, and treasure up all these things. Thankfully she did, she chose not to miss it, although it would be many years before she really understood what the angel had been telling her. Thankfully, she did not spend her first bunch of time just wishing it away, dreaming of an experience like Elizabeth’s, and wondering why she did not get that version of the story as her gift for carrying God’s son, the Messiah. Instead, she received it as it was given. She chose to be present and treasure up the experience that was, not waiting for what would not and could not be.
Sometimes it is easy to judge a situation by the blessings, or things we interpret at blessings. If they are there, then we are favored, if not, I must be wrong, or missing something, or God must not be in this. At the beginning of this Advent season I went to a service where the pastor talked about the wonder, but he also talked about God’s favor. He talked about how we interpret God’s favor by God’s presents. When we see lots of gifts and blessings, or things going smoothly, we are favored, but really favor is having God’s presence. He is with us whether the blessings are flowing, or the days are weary and full of trouble. In the sermon the pastor gave a run down of Moses’ history and how God was now saying he would provide for the Israelites, but due to their sin He would not travel with them. Moses says, that if God does not go with them then he is not going to lead the Isrealites. After a back and forth conversation in Exodus 33 God has compassion on Moses and in verse 14 “The Lord replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.'” The Lord knows Moses by name and is pleased with him. He promises His presence. As I think about Elizabeth and Mary, and also Moses, I think of people who knew God and trusted Him but even more so, God knew them and loved them. They were favored by God. All three had very different stories but all had the same favor of God resting upon them and allowing them to rest, allowing them to be part of the bigger story. As I wonder and choose to be still, God reminds me that this favor, His presence is not just for a select few but for any who are His children. He sent Jesus as Emmanuel, God with us. We are known by Him intimately, and walk in His presence with His favor. There is a difference in walking in His presence and fulling living in His presence, resting in His favor. As I wonder and marvel at Elizabeth and Mary, I am amazed at two women who chose to fully live in God’s presence. This same God invites me into this awareness. It is available because I am His child and there is nowhere I can go that is not in His presence. The peace and confidence that comes from that, passes all understanding. I am realizing though how much more treasuring and pondering I need to do so that I do not miss God’s obvious presence in every moment of my days whether it is flowing with presents or not because it is always flowing with His presence.