Dear Wonder Women,
Mary! Elizabeth! I don’t even know where to begin. This is the first time that I’ve written a letter to people who are no longer living on earth. It’s a strange practice. You’ll probably never read this, but maybe one day when I get to heaven, the three of us can all sit down and chat. I’ll introduce you to a wonderful drink called a cappuccino, and then, after some casual conversation, I hope you’ll entertain a few of my questions.
You see, I’ve been reading and hearing your stories every year of my life. They were recorded by Luke, the physician and disciple of Jesus. He wrote a meticulous book about Jesus’ life, including the stories about how both of you conceived your sons in miraculous ways and how God let you know about his plans.
Now, I imagine that if the two of you had written down your own stories, they’d contain some details Luke wouldn’t have thought to include, like any mention of the trials of pregnancy—the mood swings, the random crying, the acidic fire always burning in your stomach or throat, the general discomfort, the swelling in your feet and hands, the fatigue, the insomnia, or even just a sentence about the pain of natural childbirth—but I’m wandering away from my point…sorry.
Sometimes when you hear a story over and over throughout your life, things stop standing out to you. You miss details. The whole story becomes merely comforting or nostalgic, and it loses the shock and wonder that it would have had the first time you heard it. But this year, as I read and hear your stories from Luke’s book again, they are especially relevant and more poignant to me. Your experiences of conceiving and bearing your sons has new life for me this year, since I too am pregnant—our modern word for being with child.
I feel a special sort of kinship with you, especially to you, Elizabeth, because I’m pretty old for a woman to have her first child, at least in my century. Obstetricians—those are physicians that specialize in caring for pregnant women—they say that there are a lot more risks and difficult side effects the older a woman is when she conceives and bears a child. Because I’m over 35, they call mine a “geriatric pregnancy” and they watch over me and my baby like an attentive shepherd would watch over his vulnerable sheep.
I wouldn’t call bearing a child into the world a “wonderful” experience. Not completely. It’s painful and difficult in so many ways. Sometimes I joke that it feels like my body has been taken over by an alien colony. Aliens are creatures that humans imagine live on other planets. I know, it’s strange. But it does feel like my body, my whole life really, has been taken over and is now controlled by a very busy and strange colony. I feel nothing like myself and struggle daily to cope with all the changes I cannot control. And then dealing with how people treat you on top of that!
Did either one of you ever have to deal with constant, unfiltered comments about your body? Or people trying to touch you like you’re suddenly one of the fuzzy lambs or goats in the family stable? Or the constant, unsolicited, contradictory advice on what you should do or not do? Or other women wanting to share their birth horror-stories with you as though this is somehow reassuring?
It’s exhausting, this child-bearing and all that comes with it. And as hard as it is for me, I think both of you probably had it worse in your time. Mary, you had to endure the sting of people judging you as unclean since you conceived Jesus before you and Joseph were married. I can’t imagine coping with that too! You have my ever-lasting sympathy.
It’s true, isn’t it, that sometimes, pregnancy feels closer to misery than a miracle? And yet, when you think about it, every pregnancy, no matter the circumstances, is pretty miraculous. Just about the only thing I enjoy these days is feeling the baby kick and flutter and turn inside me, and I think, “Wow, this is real. This is wonderful. There’s a life growing inside me.” It’s also wonderful to see how excited my husband gets when he feels the kicks too.
These moments have made me think of you two women constantly. I love the part in Luke’s story where Mary arrives at your house, Elizabeth. She greeted you, and then the story says your baby leaped in your womb. Baby John must have known someone special just entered your presence. He must have miraculously known the presence of the Lord was with him. And Elizabeth, you knew it too. You said, “Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy.” What a moment, Elizabeth!
Ladies, did you know that in the centuries since you lived, hundreds of artists have portrayed this moment when you met up in Elizabeth’s house, both pregnant? It’s some of my favorite biblical artwork, this moment between cousins and women who have been blessed by God’s miraculous touch. Some of the paintings show the wonder and awe you must have both felt. Others have you both laughing with pure joy. I marvel at you both! Not just that God chose you to be part of his grand plan to save the world through his son Jesus. I’m in awe of your responses to the news that you both would play an intimate role in the plan.
Elizabeth, Luke called you, “righteous before God, blameless in your observance of all the Lord’s commandments and regulations.” That’s an incredible compliment that few could bear true. Though you were barren and very old, and most people would have disregarded you as nothing special by then, God saw your heart and knew it was pure. God sent his angel Gabriel to your husband Zachariah first, when it was his turn to serve as priest at the holy temple, and let him know that baby John would be conceived. Gabriel said your son would be “a joy and delight to you, and many people will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the Lord’s eyes.” I hope God would say something even remotely resembling this about my baby.
Despite such tremendous news, and all his righteousness, Zachariah was afraid and doubtful of Gabriel’s proclamation, so, as you know God struck him dumb and he could not speak. Not to belittle Zachariah, but imagining both his emergence in front of the temple crowds and his arrival home to you make me giggle a bit. Did he mime to you what had happened and you tried to interpret his signs? Did he try to draw out what happened using a stick in the dirt outside your front door? It doesn’t really matter, I’m just amused and curious. Whatever he tried to communicate, I’m sure it all came clear when you became pregnant at your age. Suddenly those unusual events started to make sense. Either way, Luke reported that you kept your pregnancy a secret for five months and credited it all to the Lord’s work.
And Mary, those moments when this stranger Gabriel showed up in your village and suddenly told you to “rejoice,” that you are favored and that God was with you. Luke wrote that you were surprised and confused, and no wonder, with a strange man starting off a conversation like that! And then he tells you that God has chosen to honor you by having you conceive the long-awaited Messiah who will rule on David’s throne after all the years of vacancy. And THEN he says you won’t have the baby by Joseph, but you would conceive by the Holy Spirit!?!?!
Mary, I would have been speechless if someone told me that, angel of God or not. But when Gabriel assured you that “nothing is impossible with God,” your response was simply “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Now, I’m sure you had a bunch of emotions and some lingering questions swirling around inside you—which is probably why you immediately went to see your cousin Elizabeth, another woman who was also pregnant by the miraculous hand of God—only she would truly understand. But for this acceptance to be your response to Gabriel’s pronouncement? You must have been such a remarkable young woman!
We don’t get all the details of what happens for you both between when you conceive and when you give birth, but we do know that you both remained faithful and grateful servants to God’s miraculous, wonderful, shocking plan. You are truly some of my sheroes—that’s a word I like to use for women who I admire.
In my time we have these things we call comic books. They are usually colorfully drawn scenes that depict the world in dire straits needing some kind of help or salvation. The comics often feature what we call a “superhero” who is a person with some kind of otherworldly abilities or powers. They see what is wrong and they fight what we call villains—think King Herod—and the forces of evil to right the wrongs in the world.
There’s one comic story super-shero I particularly like. Her name is Diana Prince, but she’s more commonly known as Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman is very powerful and overcomes seemingly unbeatable odds. She has some special weapons: a Lasso of Truth, a pair of indestructible bracelets, and a crown which she sometimes takes off her head and throws as a weapon. I’ll spare you a picture of Wonder Woman. Since she’s always been drawn by men, she tends to be woefully under dressed. But it’s not her tight leather getup or her weapons that really make Wonder Woman so powerful. As the stories go, she always triumphs because she believes that good can and should overcome evil, no matter the odds. She wants good things for the world, and she is willing to sacrifice her own safety and comfort to bring that good about.
To me, you both are wonder women. Though the people around you may not have seen you as anything special, God saw your hearts. God knew you needed no “weapons” beyond pure hearts and faith to follow his uncommon plan toward a good future for yourselves and others. God knew you would be willing to make sacrifices in your own lives to help bring about the flourishing of his kingdom through preparing the way for his son, Jesus. I’m truly in awe of you both. Thank you for your faith, your example, your sacrifices.
Respectfully, your sister in the Kingdom,
All scripture quotations taken from the Common English Bible © 2011
This is an amazing letter to Mary and Elizabeth – and to the rest of us. I love the way it crosses time barriers, with the then and now. and congratulations to you as well.
Wonderful letter. So happy to hear your news! I know you’ve wanted this for a very long time. Your post reminded me of this Advent quote from Diana Butler Bass: The only Christmas action movie I want to see is about two pregnant women plotting the overthrow of empire.