by Onleilove Alston, guest contributor
A statuette of the Virgin Mary in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. (photo: Michael O’Donnell/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)
This Advent I am reminded of the meeting Mary had with Elizabeth to announce she was with child. Though this could have been a time of anxiety for Mary, with Elizabeth it became a time of celebration. I playfully call the following account of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth the first baby shower:
"Mary didn’t waste a minute. She got up and traveled to a town in Judah in the hill country, straight to Zachariah’s house, and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and sang out exuberantly, You’re so blessed among women, and the babe in your womb, also blessed, And why am I so blessed that the mother of my Lord visits me? The moment the sound of your greeting entered my ears, The babe in my womb skipped like a lamb for sheer joy. Blessed woman, who believed what God said, believed every word would come true!
And Mary said, I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God. God took one good look at me, and look what happened — I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others. His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him. He bared his arm and showed his strength, scattered the bluffing braggarts. He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold. He embraced his chosen child, Israel; he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high. It’s exactly what he promised, beginning with Abraham and right up to now.
Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months and then went back to her own home.”
In America, baby showers are times for women to come together and celebrate new life; presents are exchanged, advice given, and games played. Mary and Elizabeth celebrated the new life within them by exchanging presents of joy, encouragement, song, and prophecy. Both women were carrying children of promise: one would pave the way and the other would be the way.
John the Baptist, a prophet even from the womb, jumped for joy because he knew the baby Mary carried was the Messiah. Mary and Elizabeth were both silenced and marginalized in their society, yet in the company of each other they declared prophetic words of what God was doing in their midst. Neither woman had a convenient pregnancy — Mary being a teenager and Elizabeth being an elderly woman, but each allowed herself to be inconvenienced for God’s purposes. Mary and Elizabeth’s celebration shows the importance of women coming together for prayer, praise, and prophecy.
When Mary sings, “He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold,” we see that in the presence of Elizabeth she could freely declare words that may have been dangerous if spoken in public. Mary’s song was more than words of celebration, it was a declaration of the inevitable breakthrough of justice.
In my tradition as a Protestant Christian, Advent is a season of waiting, but this Advent season I am not waiting for Christ. There is no need to wait because his grace breaks into my reality each day. As a young African-American woman, I am waiting for the justice Mary sang about to break through into my community, into the U.S. prison system, into the shacks of South Africa, into the relations we have with each other.
This passage is an encouragement to me as I wait because it reminds me that when women gather in Christ’s name He is in our midst. I believe that if we want justice to break through into our society we cannot passively wait, but like Mary and Elizabeth we have to actively wait singing prophetic songs and taking actions of justice. Let us not grow anxious by the circumstances we see: the holiday parties, gifts to buy and return, or seasonal loneliness. But, during this season of Advent, let us remember that the Gospels included everyday people who God used in extraordinary ways.
Women can continue to come together to rejoice, celebrate, and prophesy about liberation through collective action and prayer. This Advent I will actively wait by organizing for justice in my community, because when we come together the course of history will be interrupted, life birthed, and justice given.
Onleilove Alston is a native New Yorker and a student at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University. She lives in a Christian intentional community in Harlem and is a contributing writer for Sojourners.
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