She was a mature woman from an educated family with social standing. She inherited expectations for her life and she had worked hard to achieve them. Together with her husband, she had created the life she wanted. His career had earned him the respect of his community and she basked in her role in that success. She hosted interesting dinner parties for sophisticated people where the food was elegant and the conversation was intellectual. Their home was comfortable, even if it had felt empty all these years.
By contrast, her teenaged cousin from the countryside didn’t belong anywhere near the priest’s dining room, not even waiting on tables. She was a nice girl, but she wasn’t cut out to mingle with the elite.
When you find out that a girl like this is expecting a child before her marriage, sometimes there is surprise, even shock. But when she shows up penniless and barefoot on the doorstep of a childless rich relative, there is no surprise and no shock about what her family expects to happen. The plot was simple, but how well it was understood by the young girl at the middle of the story is impossible to know.
Did Mary understand that she might be delivered from her shame if Elizabeth could read the signs? Did she understand the radical blessing that Elizabeth offers her? Because Elizabeth surprises everyone, not only with the state of her own swollen belly, but also with her response to the young mother before her, the most shocking blessing that any mother can offer. She, a woman of privilege, tells a pregnant teenager “Your child is just as special as mine.”
In a thousand ways we live with the inequalities of birth each day, perhaps it even seems natural to us. On one side of the equation or another, we seem to accept that the worth of a child is based on their zip code. Across the world, children suffer disproportionally from the unequal distribution of goods and resources, and it takes a perspective like Elizabeth’s to narrow the gap.
The gospel of Luke teaches us radical equality in the very first chapter. The accidents of our birth are not where our value lies, but we are deeply treasured by God. Those with the eyes of faith are asked to see the true depth of human worth. It is the blessing of this world-wise older relative which allows Mary to change her song. No longer the passive acceptance of her circumstances, but a full embracing of her story, labeling this fragile, terrifying new beginning a “blessing.” These babies are blessed. Both. Not just the one born to privilege. Today’s story honors every parent who started their parenting journey under less than ideal circumstances and every child who needs to know that they are a blessing.
You have people like Mary around you today; women, men and children who need to be reminded of the blessing that they are, that they are beloved of God. You may need to look past their circumstances, and see the promise of all that they can be. You have the same power that Elizabeth held to set the song in a new key. May it be with us as she has said:
May you feel your worth to God in your bones.
May you believe that the legacy you leave can be blessed.
May you trust that someone on this earth takes delight in you.
May you know that you bring joy to someone’s deepest being.
May you be blessed as you hold on to the faith that your God will fulfill every promise made to you.