In the first chapter of Luke, the Holy Spirit makes us witnesses of two miraculous encounters.
First, the angel Gabriel appears to the priest Zechariah and reveals to him that his wife, Elizabeth, will bear a child even in her advanced age. They were to name this miracle child John, and he would prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah.
Six months later, just a three-day walk away in Nazareth, Gabriel appears again, this time to Mary, a young virgin, and he tells her that she will also bear a child, Jesus, who would be the Savior of the world.
For Christians, this is a familiar story, especially around this time of year. Every Christmas we hear of these amazing things from the lecterns and pulpits in our churches. Our children act them out in pageants. Special worship services are held to commemorate the birth of Jesus. In fact, we hear this story so often that I think the momentousness of the event gets lost. We know the story by heart but the specific details get smoothed over and lost in the retelling.
In my own re-reading of Luke, a detail jumped out at me that I hadn’t considered too deeply before. Not long after Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary, she left Nazareth and traveled to see her relatives. Luke 1:39-40 says, “In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.”
What stood out to me were the words, “with haste.” Why was Mary in such a hurry? What would provoke her to travel, pregnant and without her betrothed, a three-day’s journey to see Zechariah and Elizabeth?
Imagine how alone Mary must have felt at hearing that she would bear the Messiah. She believed the angel’s words, but who would believe her? She trusted in God’s plan for her, but could she trust her family and friends to understand? After a couple of months facing the scrutiny and judgmental stares of her community, she likely wanted to be with someone who would understand.
Zechariah could empathize. The same angel that came to Mary first appeared to him. Elizabeth would understand. After all, she too carried a special child. Mary sought out the company of those who believe as she did.
The unbelieving world today celebrates a very different Christmas than we Christians. Our eyes are fixed on Jesus, who came as a baby but also grew to live, die and rise again to reconcile us to God. The Holy Spirit gives us faith to believe that God will fulfill all that he has promised.
Still, as the people around us move further from God, we may begin to feel alone. In response we would do well to imitate Mary and seek out other believers, and with haste!
If you’ve been away from worship for a while, this Christmas is the perfect time to return. If you don’t have a church home, find one that believes and teaches all that God has revealed to us in his word.