Two divinely announced sons, two unexpected pregnancies, and two mothers-to-be. Needless to say, Elizabeth and Mary had much to talk about during their three months together. Cloistered in the terraced town of Ein Kerem, the women shared daily chores and conversations about what was happening to them – and in them. Their bodies changed day by day, swelling to accommodate God’s work in them with literal force. The new trajectory of their stories took shape even before each began to show.
When Mary first arrived at her elder relative’s doorstep, her own pregnancy likely was not common knowledge. But Elizabeth’s child jumped in her belly, testifying to a holy presence among them. She sang out, “Blessed are you among women – and the fruit of your womb!” Not a random greeting, but a chorus heavy with history from Israel’s mighty women. Elizabeth echoed the words of warrior-judge Deborah, who sang the verse over Jael when she was victorious in war. And there are hints of the history that also connect with Judith from the Apocrypha, another woman who proved herself in battle on behalf of her people. The elder relative put Mary in esteemed company, recognizing that God was at work among them both.
The women had plenty of time to talk about the new turn in their lives. Walking to get water Elizabeth sang an old song by Hannah, another woman whose barrenness was broken by God’s goodness. She taught Mary about her story. They likely mused together over how God worked then, and continued to manifest similar mercies toward them both now. Maybe they sang together Miriam’s song of deliverance as they cut cucumbers and tore fresh herbs into a salad to bring to the dinner table. And maybe over dinner the conversation continued about possible connections between Miriam singing in the shadow of Pharaoh and how they now sang under Roman occupation.
Imagine Zechariah, silently listening as he ate. Was he surprised at their hunger for liberation, their insights on transformation? Or was he more stunned by their theological explorations – informed by knowledge of their ancestors and woven with their own real-time experience? Maybe his muting by the Spirit was not a punishment, but an opportunity for revelation. He witnessed the emergence of incarnation theology inaugurated by women. The quieted priest learned from the mothers of advent.
This Advent season we might all do well to watch the women in Israel-Palestine and see the ways they are forging peace. The Palestinian and Israeli mothers of the Parent’s Circle, where those bereft of children due to the conflict come together in shared grief, tell their stories together. Often times their hands are clasped together as they remember their children and speak hard and tender truths about the cost of violence in the land. They point a way forward for those willing to listen. Women activists are coming together from both sides of the Separation Wall to march for peace, reminding us that Elizabeth and Mary sang of a non-violent peace that broke with the warrior-mothers of old. These women, too, cry out for an end to violence and a new kind of peace across the region they share.
As we embody God’s peace campaign this advent,
we can learn from the first advent and listen to the wisdom
and experience of the women among us. The words of women
are integral to a full theology of incarnation
and understanding of what it means when we say
Immanuel, God is with us. Maybe we are those women –
and we must find the courage to say out loud what
the Spirit of God is doing in us. Maybe we have freedom songs
to sing for our communities, more verses to add
to Mother Mary’s Magnificat.
Author Kelley Nikondeha is a practical theologian hungry for the New City. She is the co-director and chief storyteller for Communities of Hope, a community development enterprise in Burundi. Kelley is the theologian in residence for SheLoves Magazine. Her latest book is “The First Advent in Palestine: Reversals, Resistance, and the Ongoing Complexity of Hope”. Find out more about Kelley’s work on her website: https://kelleynikondeha.com/.
CMEP’s first Advent Devotional Book: In addition to our usual Advent Devotionals, CMEP is pleased to have partnered with author Kelley Nikondeha to create a devotional book entitled “The First Advent: Embodying God’s Peace Plan” that is available for purchase for you or your church group. This devotional book contains devotionals for each Sunday of Advent, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as well as Alternative Advent Practices written by members of CMEP’s staff. Click here to purchase
CMEP is very thankful for those writers who contribute Spiritual Resources. However, CMEP does not necessarily agree with all the positions of our writers, and they do not speak on CMEP’s behalf.