When I was in grade school, my cousin Gayle came to stay with us for a few weeks.
I thought it was great having an older cousin who would pay attention to me.
But Gayle was there for a reason—
Suddenly finding herself pregnant, not yet through nursing school,
She had to decide whether or not she was going to keep the baby.
There was a lot of shame in those days about being pregnant out of wedlock,
And our house provided a place away from the whispered judgments of Gayle’s small town.
I think back to Gayle and many other women in similar circumstances as I read the Gospel lesson today.
Mary was in a precarious situation, to say the least.
In those days, women could be stoned to death for becoming pregnant outside marriage.
Not to mention how she would explain her situation to her family and to Joseph.
An angel told you what??? Right!!!
And even if her family did believe her, and Joseph didn’t break the engagement,
The gossip of the neighbors was going to incessant once she started to show.
Mary needed to get away for a while.
So just like my cousin Gayle, Mary went through her mental contact list, thinking,
Who can I trust to just listen to me while I sort this all out?
She came up with Elizabeth, an older relative who lived in the hill country.
Elizabeth would understand—
she had endured the judgments of others because she couldn’t have children
but now in her old age, she had suddenly conceived.
It’s an iconic moment when Mary walks in the door—
Immediately, the child leaps in Elizabeth’s womb,
and she bursts into praise and celebration at what God is doing in their midst.
For where others saw mistakes and moral failure, Elizabeth saw God’s wondrous ways.
It isn’t clear to me if Elizabeth had heard about Mary before seeing her,
But through the Holy Spirit Elizabeth understood that the child within Mary was the Lord, the Messiah.
Instead of it being a shame to be seen with Mary, Elizabeth sees it as an honor.
And best of all, Elizabeth commends Mary.
For where elsewhere she would have received condemnation,
Elizabeth praised Mary’s faith and called her ‘blessed’
for she ‘believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken by the Lord.
It must have been so good to hear.
It must have been sorely needed, because Mary stayed for three months.
I imagine that during that time there were a lot of conversations
About remaining steadfast in the face of opposition and
Focusing on what God is doing rather than what people are saying,
And that they mulled over God’s mighty acts in turning the world upside down with this coming child,
Figuring out what it all might mean.
To me, Elizabeth is an example of solidarity.
Solidarity comes from the Latin word for ‘Solid’,
and as such has the connotation of standing with someone in support.
Elizabeth stood beside Mary by taking her into her home,
But equally important were her listening and presence without judgment.
The Holy Spirit worked through Elizabeth to give her the words to say to Mary
And that same Spirit opened Elizabeth’s eyes to see what God’s activity,
even in the midst of these strange and at times frightening circumstances.
Being in solidarity with one another is what Christian community is about.
I remember when a HS friend of mine named Chris went AWOL from the navy.
He had thought military life would suit him;
His brother had flown missions in the air force in Viet Nam
His dad had fought in the Korean Conflict
And he had an uncle that was a POW in WWII.
But about 2 months into it, Chris’ mom got a call from his commanding officer.
Apparently Chris had failed to show up to the next level of training after boot camp.
The military police were out looking for him, but hadn’t found him.
Chris was missing.
Chris’ mom, Nancy, didn’t know what to do.
Her husband, Howard, was at work until midnight and couldn’t be reached.
So she called friends from the small group she was in at church.
After telling her friends what happened, they offered to come over.
And for the rest of the night, those friends sat with Nancy, and then Howard when he came home.
Sometimes Nancy and Howard wanted to talk.
They talked about how Chris was unhappy in the navy.
He didn’t like the orders, the yelling, the obedience to superiors.
He worried that he wasn’t military material.
Other times they all just sat together and prayed in the silence of their hearts.
Throughout the evening, these friends joined Howard and Nancy in their worry and their prayer.
They couldn’t make Chris come home, but they could stand with Howard and Nancy in their struggle.
When we see Mary and Elizabeth in today’s story, we see their faith and rejoicing—
What we don’t see as easily is the struggle that it must have been for them
As two women who didn’t fit the traditional norms
As two who had deep spiritual insight, but no official way to channel it.
Mary was ‘a lowly servant,’ at the bottom of the totem pole in society—
Who would listen to her?
How would she keep faith alive when all other indications of her worth told her otherwise?
The truth is that it is pretty hard to keep the faith alive by yourself.
We need others to stand with us. Gayle needed my parents
(she btw kept the baby, and gradually put herself through school to eventually get her RN)
We need the prayer and presence and listening of others,
just as Mary needed Elizabeth, and Howard and Nancy needed their church friends.
Two long days later, Chris finally called home.
He was scared, but safe.
He got an honorable discharge, and went on to a career in heating and AC.
And a few years later, when the pastor asked for people to tell a faith story in church,
Howard stood up and told about the night his friends stayed with him,
Standing with him in the unknown,
And he said, “That night I saw the face Jesus – in my friends.”
There are a lot of hurting people all around us—perhaps especially in this season of celebration.
People visit this congregation looking for the face of Jesus
Those of us who come week to week need the same thing—
To be Christ’s healing presence to others, and to receive it in like measure.
The mystery we enter into in this coming season of Christmas is that
In becoming human in Jesus, God chose solidarity with us.
God chose to stand with us, our circumstances, whether favorable or unfavorable.
In Christian community, we share solidarity with one another.
We stand together, in God’s strength, and we know for certain that we are not alone.