Scripture Reflection Luke 1:39-45: Belief And The Baby Womb Party
December 21, 2012 Comments Off on Scripture Reflection Luke 1:39-45: Belief And The Baby Womb Party
I flew home to California this week. To be honest, the visit was less convenient than absolutely necessary. I’ve been thrown for a few loops this fall. I needed home, so I informed my work, booked my flight, and flew (fled) to my parents’ house.
Throughout the week, I read over the Scripture assigned for today’s reflection. Let me fill you in. Elizabeth has recently conceived a son, the future John the Baptist, and Mary has also just been told by the angel Gabriel that, despite being a virgin, she will soon give birth to the Son of God. Verses 39-45 find Mary in the hill country of Judea, where she has traveled to the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Mary goes to greet Elizabeth, and at the sound of Mary’s voice, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy. As the Scripture reads, “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” Jesus and John find themselves in each other’s physical presence for the first time. Mary and Elizabeth are elated. Elizabeth exclaims, “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” It’s like a little baby womb party.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s husband cannot speak. A consequence of questioning the angel Gabriel’s prophesy — “How can I be sure of this?” Zechariah had asked. “I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” Gabriel was having none of that. “Now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” Notice that Gabriel did not say, because of your disbelief you will no longer receive a son. John the Baptist was meant to come into this world, whether Zechariah believed it or not.
What I love most about the simultaneity of John and Jesus’ conception stories is that it’s as if God foresaw not just Zachariah’s disbelief, but also the disbelief of the people of Nazareth and Judea, and finally the disbelief of future generations — the readers of the text. You and me. We needed not one miracle, but two. Reading Mary and Elizabeth’s stories side by side, I was struck by a very worldly thought. It would have been easy to doubt the validity of an immaculate conception in Mary. But we cannot, by any reasonable means, say the same of Elizabeth. Zechariah and Elizabeth were old. Elizabeth was unable to conceive. This was a well known fact in their town, as Elizabeth states, “The Lord has done this for me. In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” Not just one immaculate conception, but two. Not just a young woman who may or may not have prematurely slept with her fiance, but an old woman who literally could not have a baby. Still filled with disbelief?
The fact that all will come to fruition despite Zachariah’s disbelief gives me peace. As one of my favorite pastors, Timothy Keller has said, nothing we do can determine God’s plan. Yes, we have free will, and yes, our choices matter, but they don’t determine the future. As Marcus Aurelius wrote in Book IV of Meditations, “Fret not thyself. Has something befallen thee? It is well. Everything that befalls was from the beginning destined and spun for thee as thy share out of the Whole.”
Before I got on the plane to return to New York, my mother looked at my face, my worry, and said, “Things will get better.” I don’t doubt that she is right. What I doubt is my ability to believe. Will my mouth be silenced like Zachariah’s until the time comes where God has fulfilled his purpose in me? Or will my spirit leap for joy at the knowledge that God is working all for the good of those who love him?
Very seldom do we get a glimpse of how God works. The story of advent is more than a glimpse. It is a ripped open, naked, glorious vision of a God who is in control. Whether I believe it now or not, God is working. But how much sweeter, and what joy will I find, if I can finally set aside my doubts and worries, the anxiety that has held me down these last few months, and finally, believe.
– Rachel Hurn