Mary was in a pickle. There is no doubt about it. We easily forget just how desperate this young woman was. In our minds – over 2,000 years later – we tend to see this scene through the lens of our joy; from the perspective of one who has been saved by the fruit of her womb. We see this scene like you would see it in a children’s nativity play; like a royal procession where the mother of the King of kings joyously goes to visit her elderly cousin who has also been blessed by God. But if you look carefully, that’s not what’s happening at all. The text does not say that Mary proceeds to Elizabeth’s home, or that she journeys to Elizabeth’s home. No the text says that she goes in haste to Elizabeth’s home. Literally it says that she went with all her earnest effort; she went as fast as she possibly could, nearly 100 miles through narrow mountain roads to get to Elizabeth. But why? The angel hadn’t told her to go, and a journey of 100 mile through mountainous roads, through Samaria, risking life and limb, was not something one did on a whim. So why go? Mary went, because she was desperate to see her cousin Elizabeth; she went because she was desperate for proof that it was true; she was desperate for proof that it was false; she was desperate for someone who might understand.
For us to understand what Mary is going through, we need to read what had just happened to Mary. Luke wrote that the angel Gabriel was sent from God and he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.” Well that’s an understatement, it literally says that she was terrified. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid , Mary(yes Mary was really afraid), for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” So how has God chosen to favor her, He is going to make her pregnant in a land where you are stoned for an unwed pregnancy. Gabriel continues, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Is this supposed to make her feel better? Not only is she going to face the shame, ridicule, and the very real physical danger of an unwed pregnancy, but now Mary hears that her Son will seek to dethrone Rome’s client king, something Rome typically doesn’t look kindly on. And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” She is asking the Gabriel what is about to happen to her. Is this a threat upon her body and her honor, by someone saying they represent God? And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God” Is this supposed to cheer her up? Now she can’t even point at someone to share her blame; to share her shame. She is all alone. And Gabriel finishes by giving her proof that what he is saying is true. He says: “And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.” Now, this is not exactly a joyous response. Mary is not exactly overflowing with happiness. No, in fact just the opposite. Mary’s response, is the response of one with no options. She literally says Look at me! I am the slave of God! Mary has no choice in this matter and she knows it, but don’t think for a moment that this brings her any comfort. This word from Gabriel that we read with such joy had to have hit Mary like a ton of bricks. So Mary races to see her cousin Elizabeth, Mary’s last hope. If Elizabeth is not pregnant then this is all a hoax, but is Elizabeth is pregnant than maybe Elizabeth will understand; maybe Elizabeth will know what to do.
There is nothing in what the angel revealed to Mary that would bring her comfort. But this is often the nature of God’s call on our lives. Though it rarely comes through an angelic visitation, the call of God comes to all of us. Through family or friends, through teachers or pastors; through your congregation or that feeling deep down in your heart, God’s call comes to all of us. But this call – though it come to us – is not for us. In fact, the very notion of answering God’s call can and often does bring anxiety, fear, and yes even dread. We want not to be called. We want our happy comfortable life. We want others to be called for us. The sacrifice is just too great, but God calls us nonetheless. And how do we respond? Most often, just like Mary. We look for a loophole. I can’t be pregnant, I’m a virgin. I can’t serve in the ministry, I’m not educated enough, I’ve got too many obligations, I’m not equipped to do that. Choose someone else. But God is not swayed by our attempts to get out of it. It doesn’t matter how ill-equipped or unprepared you think you are, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” When God calls, ‘no’ is not an acceptable answer. There is only one answer to give, Look at me! I am God’s slave! And there is also only one acceptable response, GO AND GET HELP AS FAST AS YOU CAN! And this is just what Mary did.
Just as God called Mary to face the impossible, He provided the help that she needed. Mary ran for help, and God had help waiting there for her. God provided Mary with Elizabeth and Elizabeth gave her just what she needed. Elizabeth gave her confirmation that God’s call was true – for there she was, six months pregnant. Elizabeth gave her the encouragement she needed to accept her call. She said “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” And most importantly, Elizabeth showed Mary where she would find the strength to answer that call. She said, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Remember, I have explained this before. To say someone is blessed, does not mean that they are good, or fortunate. Rather to say someone is blessed is to say that they are gifted by God. In other words, Elizabeth is saying And God will give you the faith to believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to you from the Lord.” God chooses Mary, and God uses Mary, but it is God who gives Mary what she needs to answer that call and it is God who gives Mary what she needs to carry out that call.
God calls us to the impossible. God calls us to be the Body of Christ in this world. To go and be Jesus in this world, to go proclaim His Good News to all nations, to forgive sins in His name, and to love and care for others as only He has loved and cared for us. But more than this, God calls us to be righteous in His sight. To be true and sinless, though we are twisted and fallen in sin. God calls us to do the impossible, but God does not abandon us to the impossible. God gives us freely the faith to believe that this Son of Mary – the eternally begotten Son of the Father – who died on the cross and was raised from the dead by His heavenly Father, has taken our sin onto Himself and paid the price for that sin in full. God sends His Holy Spirit to work salvation for us, to comfort us, to teach us, to bind us together as Christ’s Body, and to work His will in and through us. And we – in the face of all that God has done for us – can only respond as Mary responded when she said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.”