Texts: Micah 5:2-5a; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-55
It was early, before daylight when the woman arose to begin her day’s tasks. She liked these early hours. The quiet allowed her to think about the day ahead, and to organize herself. She had many things to do since she was alone for the time being.
Soon enough the house would be bursting with life and activity again. But for now she was in seclusion, her chosen response to unexpected upheaval in her life. She was gathering her strength, readying her soul to carry on with all that would be happening soon.
She went outside in the cool air to sit on a bench along a low garden wall. It would be a warm day as most were in her part of the world. As Elisheba (Elizabeth) breathed in the scent of the earth she offered a simple prayer to the Holy One. Thank you. Thank you for this day.
And then she waited expectantly. Throughout the community Elisheba was well known for her gifts. A skilled hand in growing things, a kind heart, and the rare ability to sense things before they came to pass. Over time Elisheba had learned to create an open space in her inner self to welcome whatever might come into her awareness. It was her daily practice.
Hours later, preparing her midday meal there was a soft voice at the door. Elisheba looked up from her work and saw her cousin. What a pleasure to see the younger woman! But not a surprise. Elisheba had known early that day in the garden that Miriam (Mary) as on the way and that her extended quiet time was soon coming to an end.
Miriam sat down to remove her shoes before entering the house. Elisheba brought a basin of cool water and began to rinse her feet. Miriam protested, “Please, I can do this. You’re busy enough as it is. And besides…” Miriam didn’t finish what she was about to say as Elisheba suddenly went pale and gasped loudly. Oof! That was a big kick. This little one is active today!
A look of concern crossed Miriam’s face. “I’m fine”, said Elisheba. “Women have been doing this forever, you know.” The two women shared a smile. And how about you, little cousin? Are you going to tell me why you’ve come to my door?” Especially since you know that I’ve been spending the past few months apart from everyone.”
Miriam looked startled for a moment. “You know something, don’t you? Of course you do.” Elisheba reached out and gently took Miriam’s hands into her own. “I don’t know everything yet. Let me listen again now that you are here.”
The older woman closed her eyes for a moment. Suddenly her eyes opened wide with amazement. “It’s the Holy One! Never before have I had such an intense sense of nearness. The Holy One is moving within you. Has any woman ever been so chosen? Never!”
“This is a blessing Miriam! What a blessing for me that I am the one to know what the Holy One is doing in you! And it’s a blessing for you too, because you know and also believe that the Holy One is bringing an exceptional life to birth within you. This blessing is not just for you, it is in you! I knew that this was no ordinary visit when my own child moved so forcefully in my body.”
From Elisheba a blessing was an extraordinary thing. Her ancestor was Aaron, who was appointed to speak for the Holy One when his brother Moses could not find his own voice. Aaron became the first of a whole new line of priests to the nation.
Aaron’s male descendants all served the Holy One. Each man had been given the power of blessing in the name of the Holy One. And now Elisheba, daughter of Aaron, also claimed her right of inheritance to bless.
Elisheba suddenly realized that she had wrapped her arms around her cousin and was holding her tightly. Miriam’s own eyes were closed. Elisheba released her and gently placed her hands on her shoulders. Miriam, are you all right? What is your heart saying to you right now?
Miriam, without opening her eyes softy began to sing. She sang for the Holy One surging with life within her. She sang for herself. She sang for Elisheba. The young woman sang for the whole world, and for generations yet to be born.
My soul makes the Holy One great,
my spirit exults in God who delivers me;
who has regarded my humiliation with special attention.
From now onward everyone born will count me as exceptional.
For to me great things have been done by the Power whose name is Holy.
To unending generations is mercy for those who revere him.
He has done a mighty thing with his strength:
He has dispersed the ones who think disdainfully in their hearts-
unseating the highest authorities,
elevating the ones not self-concerned.
The ones hungering, he fills with good.
The advantaged, he has emptied and re-commissioned.
He has cared for the ones who serve him
Being mindful of mercy which he spoke to our forebears
- to Abraham and to all born of his seed, time without end.
What we have come to hear as the song of a young woman’s joy, was actually a song of astonishing boldness. She was as outspoken as Micah promising that God’s eternally appointed leader would come with justice and mercy filling all who long for God’s peace. She was as iconoclastic as the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews who said that God wants nothing we possess, only a place to work the ways of Jesus through us for the sake of the whole world.
Most of all, what Miriam said was that in God there is room for all of us. And in all of us there is room for God. All it takes is our word of welcome and our spirit of expectant hope.
The Rev. Beth Purdum Eden is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. She has served in more than 6 parishes in the Western United States for 30 years.