When I was nine years old, I remember having a discussion with my friend, Cherry, at school about how babies were made. She thought boys had something to do with it. I asked my mum and dad about it after school that day and they sat me down in our dining room and told me the biological facts of human reproduction. I burst into tears. It was all a bit too much for me that day, even though, to this day, I remain grateful to my late parents for their courage, honesty and clarity in telling me the Facts of Life.
My mum, Jean, was told nothing at all on this subject by her parents. When she was nine years old and her younger sister, Margaret, was born, my mum looked in the dustbin for the eggshells from the eggs which she thought her mum must have laid when the baby was born!
After my parents’ honest chat with me, they gave me a Ladybird Book called The Human Body which contained the details they had explained to me (plus colour drawings!) and which also explained digestion, respiration etc. That book gave me a lifelong interest in how the human body works in sickness and in health.
Mary, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ, was probably only 14 or 15 years old when Jesus was conceived within her by divine, not human, means. Initially fearful and confused as to how this promised baby could possibly be created without the help of a man, Mary then demonstrates an impressively open-minded, trusting and humble faith in the fulfilment of God’s promises to send a Saviour, Jesus Christ, whose kingdom will have no end.
So, what does such a young girl as Mary do in this highly irregular, not to say potentially shameful situation, of being pregnant but not being married? Remember also that a standard human baby would have been enough of a worry, but her baby was nothing less than the Son of God. A pretty tall order for one so young.
As many women have done before and since, Mary seeks female support and travels from the one-camel town which is Nazareth – it possibly only had around 150 inhabitants – for four days into the hill country of Judea to her much older relative (probably her cousin) Elizabeth who is six months pregnant with John the Baptist. Some scholars believe that Joseph may have accompanied Mary on this potentially dangerous and arduous trip at the start of a pregnancy which will also end with an arduous trip but that time to Bethlehem. We can only imagine the conversations between Zechariah, Elizabeth’s elderly husband and Joseph, if Joseph did go along to Elizabeth and Zechariah’s home with Mary.
I wonder whether Mary was sure of the welcome she would receive from Elizabeth? Might Mary have feared criticism or rejection by Elizabeth? Perhaps, just perhaps, Mary was nervous about their meeting. I have no doubt that on her long journey, Mary would have prayed for a happy meeting. Her prayers are answered, if so, in spades.
As Luke describes it, what happens when Mary does eventually arrive at Elizabeth’s home is a wonderful scene, quite rare in the Bible, of a very pure, intimate, domestic demonstration of female bonding, unshakeable faith and mutual empowerment. Though Mary’s pregnancy probably does not yet show physically, Elizabeth, wife of the Jewish priest, Zechariah, knows with eyes of faith that the child Mary carries within her is indeed Our Lord Jesus Christ. John the Baptist, as an unborn baby, moves within Elizabeth’s womb when Mary greets Elizabeth. The Bible states that the unborn John ‘leapt for joy’, possibly a little bit of literary exaggeration but entirely appropriate for such a significant encounter with the divine Son of God.
Elizabeth calls Mary blessed because, she says, the fruit of Mary’s womb is ‘my Lord’ and because Mary believed that she would conceive and bear a Son even though Mary had absolutely no idea how it would happen.
No idea how it would happen……. Do you currently have no idea how you are going to get through a particularly testing time in your life? Do you have no idea where money is going to come from? Do you have no idea how a personal disagreement or problem is going to be solved? Do you feel up against it, muddled, confused, with no idea about something you simply do not understand?
Try singing your prayers, as Mary did in her beautiful, praiseful, worshipful, well-known song called The Magnificat. Singing may relax you enough so that you can start to see God opening a door you did not see before. Keep an open mind and stay humble, believing, as Mary did, that nothing is impossible with God but do also, as she did, seek support and advice from other trustworthy sources. Dig deep within yourself to find the child-like faith Mary had in God who puts to flight proud hearts and stubborn wills, who feeds the hungry with good things and lifts up the lowly. Believe with all your heart, that, as we sing in the hymn Tell Out My Soul, God’s promise to each and every one of us, is firm and his mercy from age to age is sure and unchanging. He will bring us through every time of testing. Tears will last for a night, but joy will come in the morning.
From a sermon by Wendy Edwards, preached at St John’s on Sunday, December 22.