[Mary] entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!’ (Luke 1:40-42)

It seems probable that Mary, following Gabriel’s announcement that her relative Elizabeth has miraculously become pregnant, heads south as soon as possible to see her.

As a saintly, elderly relative with a priest for a husband Elizabeth is the obvious person to talk things over with. Mary would have been struggling with everything that she had heard. There were not simply the ‘theological’ issues of who her son was to be but all the implications of being an unmarried mother in a society that had very firm ways of handling teenage girls caught in sexual scandals.

Yet when Mary gets to Elizabeth’s house and greets her something happens that changes everything. Elizabeth feels the baby in her womb leaping with joy at the presence of the unborn Jesus. Filled with the Holy Spirit, she declares that the girl before her is ‘the mother of my Lord’ and says how blessed Mary is for having believed what God has said.

Notice God’s grace to Mary. She must have needed confirmation of what Gabriel had said and here she receives it. She has two things confirmed: she is indeed pregnant and the son she bears is ‘Lord’ – the one whom Gabriel has promised would be Son of God, David’s heir, the Messiah.

Notice also the characters in this account: an older woman, a teenage girl and two unborn babies. All the more striking is the absence of Zechariah the priest, Elizabeth’s husband, the man you might have expected to be the fount of all wisdom.

None of it is as you would expect. It’s the Advent principle operating again: God using unlikely and insignificant people to achieve his purposes. You could say that in order to achieve his purposes, God avoids the motorways and uses the B-roads instead.

Elizabeth is inspired by the Holy Spirit to call Jesus ‘Lord’. It is the first time this term is used of Jesus but, as Luke will tell us in the Book of Acts, Mary’s child will eventually be known by that title across the entire Roman Empire. Advent reminds us that God certainly is in the details. What you do today may seem to be nothing, but if God is involved – a nothing can become everything.

Revd Canon