Responding to Someone Else's Gifting
Luke 1:39-43 "At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"
There are many beautiful things about this passage; that betrothed and 'scandalously' pregnant Mary had a friend she could "hurry to" and be safe, that Elizabeth's unborn child recognized Jesus while in Mary's womb and leaped in greeting, that Elizabeth welcomed her cousin in faith. These are touching, loving, miraculous moments in the story of Jesus' birth.
But it's a different aspect of the story that holds something even more astounding to me. While I have full confidence in the miracle-working God who can orchestrate a virgin birth, shepherds, wise men, and a traveling star, I have less confidence in the human heart. So to me, it is Elizabeth's reaction that is astonishing.
Elizabeth had lived a lifetime with a constant ache: she wanted to bear a child and she wasn't able to. In her culture, the ability to produce children was the defining achievement of womanhood, and a barren womb was considered a curse. Elizabeth and her husband, Zechariah, had wanted a child for years. Their biological clock had long since stopped ticking, and they were "well along in years". Yet despite their disappointments, they were faithful servants of God.
One day, one incredible, amazing, life-changing day, the angel Gabriel visited Zechariah and told him that he would have a son. Zechariah had a difficult time believing this, since they were so old, but the angel assured him it was true and struck Zechariah mute as a result of his disbelief. (Ouch.) Then Elizabeth did indeed conceive a child, and spent 5 months rejoicing to God because "he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
Several months into her pregnancy, Elizabeth heard the news that her relative, a young girl named Mary, was going to have a baby and she wasn't even married yet. We tend to gloss this part of the story over when we tell it at Christmas time, but it wasn't a pretty thing to be pregnant and betrothed then. Mary's defense of, "It's a baby conceived by the Holy Spirit, I promise!" couldn't have helped the matter all that much. The rumors and gossip must have been horrible. Mary needed shelter from the social and cultural backlash of her circumstances, and since the angel of the Lord told her about Elizabeth's miraculous pregnancy, she decided to visit Elizabeth, who might possibly understand and give her some respite.
Imagine this scene. Elizabeth is celebrating the amazing gift of her late-in-life pregnancy, which was a miracle ordained by God, foretold by a visit from an actual angel, and the child she is to bear will play a crucial role in the kingdom of God. But into this blissful halo of happiness walks Mary, who is also pregnant from a miracle ordained by God, who was also visited by an angel, whose child is to be even greater and more important than Elizabeth's child, and who didn't have to wait her whole life to receive it.
It would have been perfectly understandable if Elizabeth were to feel slighted, jealous, angry, bitter, resentful, or insecure. For the first time in her life, when she was on top of the world in joy, someone walks in the door who has received an even bigger, better, more valuable gift from God. But instead of retreating into a host of human negativity, Elizabeth's response is, "Blessings to you Mary, blessings to your baby, and blessings to me that you would even come to visit me."
We can learn something from this, Sisters.
I have witnessed, time and time again, the negative response of women who feel that someone else's gifting is better than their own. I have watched as jealousy, resentment, bitterness, and insecurity become wedges that drive the Sisters of Christ apart. I have been guilty of it myself, and I have seen other people react that way to me. It is a common occurrence among women. And it is terribly sad.
So my question to you today is this: "How do you respond to other people's gifting?" When you encounter someone who is gifted, either materially or spiritually, with things you don't have, do you run to insecurity or jealousy? Or do you respond like Elizabeth and give thanks to God for the blessings of that gifting and the honor of even getting to be visited by the gifting of others?
Elizabeth is astonishing because she had every right to be bitter or resentful, and she responded like a true Sister for Real. She rejoiced with her friend and felt only joy that God had been blessing Mary. Elizabeth knew that every good thing that God gives forth on this earth is a reason to rejoice. She knew that Mary's gift from God, like all gifts from God, would ultimately benefit all of God's creation. Elizabeth knew that jealousy and envy are contrary to God's heart, and she allowed no room for those things in her life.
It's time to be more like Elizabeth.
We've gone too long letting the enemy tear us apart by comparing and contrasting ourselves to each other. We've spent too many years sizing each other up and ripping each other down. We've wasted too much time putting down our own gifts and blessings because they don't measure up to someone else's.
Let us go forward from this day determined to have the attitude of Elizabeth when faced with someone else's blessing. What a victory this would be in the church. What an amazing change this would make in our relationships. What an impact this would be on the world!
Are you with me?