Advent: Elizabeth and Mary

The Advent story includes not one but two surprise pregnancies: that of Zacharias‘ wife Elizabeth and her kinswoman Mary.

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The Visitation by Philippe de Champaigne (Wikimedia Commons)

As noted last week, once Zacharias returned from the shocking visit by the angel Gabriel, he knew his past-childbearing-aged wife, Elizabeth.

Just as Gabriel predicted, Elizabeth became pregnant.

She went into seclusion and stayed that way for six months.

That may have been to ensure the viability of the pregnancy, the make sure it was real. Or, perhaps to deal with the awe that Elizabeth’s dream  had come true.

Six months she remained at home. When she emerged, there would have been no doubt in the minds of her neighbors that she was pregnant.


Meanwhile, 100 miles away . . .

One hundred miles to the northwest near the sea of Galilee, the angel Gabriel visited  her young kinswoman. Luke 1 tells Mary’s story as well.

Elizabeth and her pregnancy played a crucial role for the teenage Mary when she took in just what the angel said to her:

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus.32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

As with Zacharias’ encounter with Gabriel, he told her not to be afraid and made his announcement.

Advent, Elizabeth and Mary, John the Baptist, Zecharias, Luke 1, Jesus, Christmas story, Jesus, Christmas story, nativity, pregnancy

The Angel Gabriel from the Annunciation (Wikipedia)

Throughout Luke 1, Mary demonstrates admirable knowledge of the Old Testament. She knew about the promised Messiah. When Gabriel told her to name the unexpected child “the Lord saves,” Mary knew she carried the Messiah.

Quite a bit to take in.


This glorious announcement, using all the names of God, would have been challenging to comprehend, but apparently a practical girl, she went to the most pertinent question: “how?”

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.”

Mary knew Elizabeth. She knew Elizabeth was old and barren, well past the age of having a child.

Given the angel’s words, it’s probably Mary did not know her kinswoman was pregnant.

Mary knew her Old Testament. Stories of other barren women miraculously pregnant must have raced through her mind: Rachel, Hannah, Sarah.

Given the unexpected pregnancies of those women, could God not work a miracle in her own womb?

Elizabeth’s pregnancy confirmed God at work in amazing ways and possibly gave her confidence. Her next words were straight to the point:

“Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”

She then traveled to see Elizabeth.

Elizabeth and Mary meet.

Some have conjectured Mary traveled to the Judean hill country to avoid an honor killing by her betrothed Joseph and his family.

I’m not so sure about that.

Gabriel said the Holy Spirit would come upon Mary and she would become pregnant, but did not indicate when that would happen.

It’s interesting the text said nothing about Mary’s family –how they reacted, in particular.

A trading route frequented by Gentile merchants and Roman soldiers passed through Nazareth. But it’s unlikely a young woman went off alone to visit relatives. Someone probably escorted her, though the text indicates she went to Elizabeth very soon afterwards.

Would Elizabeth have known she was coming and why?


When she entered Elizabeth’s presence, however, several things happened to reconfirm Gabriel’s words.
<a title="See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons" href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AThe_Embrace_of_Elizabeth_and_the_Virgin_Mary.jpg"><img width="256" alt="The Embrace of Elizabeth and the Virgin Mary" src="https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/31/The_Embrace_of_Elizabeth_and_the_Virgin_Mary.jpg/256px-The_Embrace_of_Elizabeth_and_the_Virgin_Mary.jpg?resize=256%2C410&ssl=1"/></a>

As soon as Mary’s greeting sounded in Elizabeth’s ears, “the babe leaped in my womb for joy.”

Six and a half months into a pregnancy, Elizabeth would already have been feeling her’s child’s movement. Elizabeth recognized the different feeling and characterized the baby as leaping for joy at Mary’s words.

Mary could see the truth: Elizabeth carried a viable child, just like the angel told her.

But then Elizabeth, no doubt powered by the same Holy Spirit that would overtake her husband’s tongue in 10 weeks, confirmed what Gabriel told Mary:

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

Mary would not have looked pregnant. How Elizabeth have known unless God revealed the truth to her?

More, why would Elizabeth have called the young unmarried woman the mother of her savior?

I love how God confirmed for Mary the truth of the angel’s words. Mary accepted Gabriel’s prophesy, but the confirmation by Elizabeth must have encouraged her even more.

God would demand much of Mary over the course of her life. I’m gratified that he gave her a godly kinswoman to encourage her and  help her with both the practical and spiritual aspects of her suddenly changed state.

Advent is about God reaching down and meeting people, real people, in their circumstances. he came to provide the Savior of their souls, and ours.


Elizabeth provides confirmation to Mary, the mother of God. Click to Tweet

Advent: Elizabeth and Mary, pregnant together Click to Tweet

What was Elizabeth’s role in the nativity? Click to Tweet



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