Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Encouraged Joy

As soon as the angel left her, Mary “got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth” (Luke 1:39b-40).

She wasted no time. There was no email, facetime, or even snail mail to transport what she wanted to share with her relative Elizabeth, and so she traveled there herself.

Though Mary had joyous news to share, there are two ways the meeting could have gone: celebration or competition.

I don’t know about you, but when I first read news of a friend’s engagement, pregnancy, job promotion, or other significant life event, I don’t always rush to congratulations. Often I am weighed down by feelings of inadequacy and comparison. I have to mentally kick myself and remember the love I have for my friend. This calls for celebration and joy, not pity, resentment, or rivalry.

Hannah Brencher, in her Advent essay, “Choosing to Cheer,” says,

God uses this moment in the text to bring together the lives of two women who both carried so much purpose-- Elizabeth and Mary-- for the sheer purpose of celebration.
I think about all the other ways this story could have played out. I think about all the opportunities they had to compete with one another or compare themselves to one another.
They don’t choose comparison or competition-- they immediately pick celebration.
Comparison is a fatal flaw that so many of us carry. Competition seems ingrained in our very society. Many of us feel like imposters in our own skin. But Brencher concludes, “When we choose to compare ourselves with [others], we take the focus off of God and what he is up to and we place it back on ourselves. We make ourselves bigger in the process instead of exclaiming the bigness of God.”

We just saw Mary proclaim deep faith in God’s enormous plan for the Messiah, but that doesn’t mean she couldn’t have been flawed like the rest of us. Gabriel shares that “even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child. . .” Thoughts like “why her?” or “but that makes my baby not as special” could flown through Mary’s mind. We don’t know what was going through Mary’s mind as she traveled to the Judean countryside, but when she arrives, Elizabeth greets her with pure joy:
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? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!
(Luke 1:42-45)
Elizabeth not only chooses celebration, but she showers Mary with encouragement. Not a beat passes and everything welling up inside Mary spills out. (Note that Luke describes Mary in 2:19 by saying, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart”—a sure sign of a deep thinker and a deeper reflector). Now, it’s possible Mary could have proclaimed the Magnificat before Elizabeth burst out with her blessing, but I don’t think so. We all need encouragement, especially when the stakes are this high. Indeed, Ray Ortlund, in his Desiring God article, “The Surprising Ministry of Encouragement,” says, “Encouragement is what the gospel feels like as it moves from one believer to another.”

The meeting of Mary, Elizabeth, and their babies was nothing short of cosmic. And it confirmed that the One in Mary’s womb was truly destined to be the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

If infant Jesus, not yet born, had the power to spark such fruits of the Spirit in these women, how much more can we depend on the risen Christ and indwelt Spirit to guide us gently from the trenches of comparison and competition to the heights of celebration and joy?

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