by Marjorie George
It was a strange and probably unexpected visit. After being told she would bear the son of God, Mary immediately – scripture has it “with haste” — set out to visit her cousin Elizabeth. (See Luke 1:39-56) Did Mary know that Elizabeth was pregnant in her old-age? Don’t know. Was Elizabeth aware of the strange news coming out of Nazareth – that her cousin Mary was pregnant though her betrothal to Joseph had not been consummated? Don’t know. We do know that each woman, in her own pregnancy, was aware that something important was happening.
Even in normal, hoped-for pregnancies, at some point lots of women say to themselves, “Oh, good Lord, what was I thinking?” The pregnancies of both Mary and Elizabeth were not normal. Elizabeth was well beyond child-bearing years; Mary was a virgin. These pregnancies were, frankly, quite astonishing. The kind of stuff that is fodder for juicy gossip around the village water-well. No wonder Mary sought the comfort and counsel of her older cousin.
The visit did not disappoint; each woman affirmed the other. At Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s baby “leaped for joy within her.” Elizabeth’s response caused Mary’s spirit to “rejoice in God my savior.” Writer Henri Nouwin considers the meeting of the two women, “One of the most beautiful passages of scripture.” Nouwen is struck that “Elizabeth and Mary came together and enabled each other to wait . . . they affirmed for each other that something was happening that was worth waiting for.”
This, says Nouwen, is “open-ended” waiting – not waiting for something specific, for our wishes to come true, our dreams to be fulfilled, our needs to be met according to our timetable. It is waiting knowing that God will act in our lives, as Nouwen has it, “In the belief that something hidden will manifest itself to us.”
For it is in the waiting that God is revealed. Mary waited. Elizabeth waited. Each of them knew the journey had begun; neither of them fully understood where the commitment would lead. Nor do we. Yet we, too, are pregnant with the life of Christ; and in our waiting it is nurtured to fullness. Paul reminds us that the whole world groans in labor pains waiting for God to reveal himself. “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption” (Romans 8:23).
In a spiritual formation program of which I am a part, our gatherings end with a closing ritual in which the leaders ask the participants, “For what do you still thirst?” For what do you long? What is the deepest yearning of your heart? How will you wait for it? How will you lead others to wait with you, expectantly.
Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Nouwen quotes are from his essay “Waiting for God” in the book Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas.