Christmas Stories: A Song You Can’t Sing Alone

Scripture: Luke 1:39-56

Mary hurried down the road that led to Judea, thoughts tumbling wildly around in her head.

It had barely been a month since everything had changed.   The angel at the well.  His impossible announcement, to which she had said yes.  Her own body’s confirmation of his words.  The worst conversation with her parents she’d ever had to have in her life.

To Gabriel, to her family, to Joseph, Mary had been strong and calm and resolute.  She had to be.  If she showed any sign of doubting herself, Mary thought, everything would crumble.  Their belief, if they had any at all, rested purely on her own.

The thing was – and this was maybe the worst part – that Mary couldn’t even pinpoint how she felt about it all.  She was scared one moment, brave the next.  She felt fierce and capable of anything – and then wondered who she was to raise any child, let alone this one.   She felt relieved and grateful when Joseph hadn’t left – and relieved that with his acceptance her parents had come to accept things too, if not embrace them.  She felt honored to have been chosen – maybe.  And then in the next moment she wished God had just chosen someone else.  She felt dread when she thought of facing her neighbors, even with Joseph by her side, and even though she knew she couldn’t avoid them forever.

Mary had so many feelings that she didn’t know how she felt at all.

And so she did the one thing she could think of to do: she left.

Before Gabriel had vanished, that day at the well, he had told her that her cousin Elizabeth was pregnant, too.  It had been a long time since Mary had seen Elizabeth.  When Mary was younger, her family used to stay with Elizabeth and Zechariah sometimes when they went to Jerusalem for Passover.  Even then, Elizabeth had seemed old to her.  But she had also seemed warm, and wise, and if anyone could understand what Mary was going through now, it would have to be her.

It was a long journey from Nazareth to Judea, and though Mary walked with her head held high as always, she began to doubt herself again.  What would Elizabeth say when she showed up alone?  Would she even recognize her?  Would she send her home?  What had Gabriel told her?

But Mary kept walking, quickly, as if to escape it all.

She was tired and dirty when she finally reached that little house in the hill country that she remembered for its smell of roast lamb and seder wine.  Elizabeth appeared in the doorway as Mary approached, and Mary saw her expression change from curiosity, to recognition, to surprise.

And Mary, who rarely cried, burst into tears.  “I had to see you,” she choked out.

Elizabeth said nothing but simply wrapped her arms around her and hugged her.  With Elizabeth’s bulging belly pressed against Mary’s still-small one, Mary was surprised to feel a kick.  Then she was equally surprised when Elizabeth started to cry, too.

“Mary!” Elizabeth said.  “Did you feel that?  That’s my baby leaping for joy.  This is such a blessing.  You are so blessed.  And that baby you’re growing is too.  And I’m blessed because the mother of my Lord is standing right here in front of me.”

The two women looked in wonder at each other’s tear-stained faces and then, in an instant, they both started to laugh.

It was a strange feeling, laughing.  Mary felt like she hadn’t laughed for a long time.  It was funny – out of all those feelings she’d been trying to sort out for the past month, joy had never been one of them.  And yet now, here with Elizabeth, she felt all her fears and doubts and feelings of unworthiness melting away, and joy bubbling up as if from a deep reservoir inside her.

And Mary couldn’t help herself.  She found herself bursting into song.

She was surprised at the words coming out of her own mouth: words of mercy and joy and redemption and promise, but also words about God scattering the proud and casting the powerful off their thrones.  Words of the hungry being filled with good things while the rich were sent away empty.  Words of divine reversal.  Dangerous words, if you thought about them – words that would have gotten a man in trouble.  Certainly words a peasant girl from Galilee would have never been taught to sing, though they rang with echoes of words and songs Mary had grown up hearing in the synagogue, whenever the scroll was opened to the prophets.

She was surprised, even, at the tense of her own words, as if God had already done all these things, as if they had been brought to completion.  Mary knew as well as anyone in Palestine that the powerful still ruled from their thrones, and that the poor still had to beg for scraps from the rich.

But God had done such things before.  And, she thought, with her hand on her belly, God was about to do them again, even better this time.

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months.  And when the fears and the doubts started to creep back in, Elizabeth would begin to hum, and Mary would sing those words again.  And she would remember that this was about more than her, more than whether she was strong enough or what people would think.  It was about God, and ancient promises to Mary’s people, and the redemption of the world.  And Mary would rejoice.

She sang those same words on the day she headed back down the road that led to Galilee.  Mary gave thanks for this song that God had given her that gave her joy and courage when she was afraid.  But she also gave thanks for the one who had helped her to sing it, because it was the kind of song Mary never could have sung alone.  She could believe in the truth and promise of those words, not only because holy women and prophets had sung words like them before her, but because Elizabeth believed them, too.

In later years they would teach the song to their children, to John and to Jesus, as they gathered for Passover seders and the boys played in that same little house in the hill country.  And Mary gave thanks that they, too, had each other, as they lived out the lives of mercy and redemption and promise that God had called them to.  They could be strong for each other when courage failed.  They could believe for each other when doubt started to set in.  No life of real and radical faith could ever truly be lived alone.

But, thought Mary, it could be lived together, believing in the promises of the song Elizabeth had helped her sing.

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