What do we know about this passage, and what do we not know? We know that Mary and Elizabeth were first cousins. That would make Jesus and John second cousins. We know that Mary was very young, and Elizabeth was quite older, past the age of bearing children. We know that Elizabeth was in her sixth month of carrying her baby, further along in her pregnancy than Mary, and she gave birth to John a few months before Mary gave birth to Jesus.
We are told that Mary set out with great haste to visit Elizabeth. Why was she in such a hurry? We do not know, but we can assume by the way Elizabeth responded to the greeting that Mary was being led by the Holy Spirit to visit her cousin. The response of Elizabeth acknowledging Mary, the mother of Jesus is referred to as the Annunciation. “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb”.
Then we have the famous message from Mary, referred to as the Magnificat, Mary’s Song of Praise. There are many beautiful hymns that are taken from this Song. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. For he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed. And we do acknowledge her blessedness in this generation. “Hail Mary, full of grace, blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit or your womb, Jesus”. This is a powerful song, and beautifully describes God’s holiness, mercy, justice, and to remind us of our promises in scripture. We know that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months, and then returned to her home. And, Elizabeth bore her son, who is to be called John.
So, what do we not know about the people mentioned in this passage. In our canon of scriptures, we never hear of Elizabeth again, after she give birth to her baby, and Zachariah gives the baby a prophetic name, “John”. We know from scripture and from historical documents that Elizabeth was quite old, as was Zechariah, the father of John. There is some confusion about someone named Zachariah who was slain was slain during the time of Herod. Remember when King Herod, in his attempt to kill Jesus, ordered that all the baby boys from 2 years old and younger
Some church historians say that Zachariah was martyred for hiding his son John from the authorities. There are scriptures backing this up in Matthew and Luke. However, Zechariah was a common and popular name. So, there is considerable debate about which Zechariah this is referring to. It’s amazing how much time some people spend debating about things like this.
Elizabeth is referred to as the first disciple of Jesus, however I would think that that position would be held by his mother Mary. So, what can we assume about Elizabeth, a disciple of Jesus, even before his birth? Both Zechariah and Elizabeth were quite old, and probably did not do much traveling, at least on foot. We know that many people wanted to follow Jesus and learn from him on his journeys, but we can assume that not everybody was capable of the rigors of traveling on foot. Jesus often told others that wanted to follow him to go back to their homes and villages and be a light and testimony among their own people and community.
We are not told that Mary and Elizabeth visited each other’s family after the birth of their two children, but we can assume that they probably did. We can assume that Elizabeth and Zechariah recognized the divine calling of Jesus that John, who became known as the Prophet John the Baptist, recognized. It’s interesting that when Jesus and John meet on the shores of the Jordan River, that this is a prophetic meeting that juxtaposes the necessity of recognizing the more important ministry of Jesus above that of John’s ministry.
We know they knew about each other. After all, they were second cousins, part of an extended family. But, it appears that the two are on similar prophetic journeys, however these two journeys are contrasted. John the Baptist message is: “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him”. When Jesus comes to John to be baptized in the Jordan River, John proclaims these words: “I’m not to baptize you. You are to baptize me”. But Jesus tells him: “No do this. It’s what is supposed to happen to fulfill our righteousness. Then as soon as he is baptized the heavens open and a voice thunders out: “This is my son, in whom I am well pleased”.
They might have exchanged pleasantries before their encounter with greetings like: “Hey cuz how you doing? How’s the family? I’m doing good John. I’m living the dream”. We really do not know what kind of pleasantries went on here, but we do know that there is a crossing of two prophetic journeys, similar, but different. And, afterward, John continues his journey and Jesus continues his, the cross where two journeys meet. The journeys cross each other.
Later when Jesus hears that John the Baptist has been taken as a prisoner by Herod and is later killed, Jesus merges his message with that of John the Baptist, who went before him. His message and Johns merge: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” And the followers began to fall in behind him, but not all of his followers. Some had to many responsibilities in the family or the community. Others were to physically impaired for the long walks every day, and many of the people were just to darn old to walk for miles every day and to sleep out on the open ground.
Just as Elizabeth and Zacharias were called to be disciples in the area in which they lived, the place where people knew them by their names. Some of us are called to leave the area we grew up in, to relocate. Some are called to be priests, deacons and bishops. Some are called to be lay leaders in the church. All of us are called to be followers of Jesus, right where we live. Our journey includes the people we come in contact every day, family, friends, loved ones, people we work with, neighbors next door and people we share a vision with in our home church.
A couple years ago, I would have gladly joined Jesus as he walked the roads of Canaan toward Jerusalem. I would have grabbed my walking stick, put on my hiking boots, got my hat and bandana to guard from sun and set out to follow Jesus. However, I couldn’t do that today. I’ve had two back surgeries in less than two years and get up and go has pretty much got up and gone. I can follow Jesus though right where I’m at. Can anybody here identify with me? I am going to continue my journey, but I don’t plan to act younger than my age.
I like to think that there are younger generations to carry on the work in his or her youth. As the proverb in Lamentations says: “It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young”. (Lamentations 3:27) I like to think that I get older I can work smarter, and the quality of my work will improve, but not the quantity. In my 20’s I started and ran a Janitorial cleaning business. I spent my days calling on customers, filing reports and filling my long days with work, and then going to be late, and it was not unusual to get phone calls in the middle of the night, with messages like: “your janitors did not show up tonight”; or, “someone left the bank doors unlocked”, or I broke the key off in the door, or “Dave, were at Coca Cola, but someone is in the office trying to open the safe. We called the police, but we can’t clean tonight we have to go the police station and identity the suspects”; or, here’s the best one: “Hi Dave were at the bank and two people are inside robbing it. We just called the police”.
Many new ministries of new businesses started by young priests or young entrepreneurs, requires a large amount of time, whatever it takes is how you must figure. But, as we get older we need to cool our jets, to slow down and enjoy the later years of your life, and I like to think the way that God intended for us. I know it does not always work out that way for everybody.
I can’t burn the candle at both ends anymore, and I can’t heap on more responsibilities and hours. I can, and I am, as a priest, on call 24/7. But, that is different, and it doesn’t happen all that often when I’m called in the late night or early mornings. Elizabeth listens to the message of Mary and I am sure is fascinated with her youth, vision and understanding of the prophetic calling. Elizabeth and Zechariah were called to serve God in the place where they lived, the place where they grew old together. We are called to follow Jesus where we live, and at all ages, but let’s not all try to be young and beautiful again. Sometimes it’s good enough to be older, wiser and, but slower than we used to be.
On this day we celebrate the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of our Lord:
Hail Mary, full of grace.
Our Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen