By Susan Malthouse-Law
“Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” – Luke 1:45
I’ve always gravitated towards the women in Scripture, and in recent years felt great empathy and solidarity with those scattered through the Old and New Testaments who are described as “barren”. I was one with them, and lived in hope that, just as their prayers were answered, my own barrenness would be somehow overcome.
It seemed unlikely, even impossible, for so many years. And it was only during Advent last year, preaching on Luke’s account of the events before Jesus’s birth, that I expressed my jealousy that despite her “getting on in years”, Elizabeth’s hope/desire/prayer was answered, and I was full of lament that it seemed I was not to be so blessed.
Elizabeth and Mary’s story has always been my favourite part of the Advent narrative – women in solidarity with each other, across the generations and experiences, facing very different realities in welcoming a new life into the world.
Mary: a young teen facing potential condemnation, even death, for accepting God’s invitation to birth His Son. Elizabeth: a seemingly old woman, after years of despair and lament and judgment, having her prayers answered in an endeavour to “prepare the way”.
Both women are brave and faithful in the face of personal and community adversity, in the service of the God who has called them.
As I’ve aged, I have failed to be as faithful as Elizabeth. Instead of being described as “righteous before God, living blamelessly according to the commandments” as she is, I have often been consumed by jealousy, lament, anger, failure and faithlessness. Despite seeming to maintain hope, little did I believe God would ever answer my prayers.
This year, however, I find I must face Advent, and this passage of Scripture, in a new way because I am anticipating the birth of my first child in the new year. In my old age (39), my prayer has been answered, and so I have no choice but to sing the praises of God, echoing Elizabeth’s grace to Mary, and Mary’s own hymn of praise, that I feel blessed among women