It is not inconsequential that two of the most important characters in the Advent story are women. While on some levels it may be true that women are the weaker sex, it is also absolutely true that if men were responsible for birthing babies, there’d be a lot fewer people in the world. The courage of women to give birth to children is something quite foreign to any man.

And the incredible courage of the two women in the Advent story is unlike anything any of us could possibly know, today. Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, humbly accepted her pregnancy in her old age as a gift from God, not knowing how it would end. Did she live long enough to see him grow to manhood? To hear him preach? Was she alive to hear the news the day his head was cut off, and served up on a silver platter? We don’t know. We only know Elizabeth was an obedient mother of Israel and daughter of God, whose baby lept for joy within her when Mary, the expectant mother of the Savior of the World walked in.

Mary, of course, had a visit of her own from Gabriel, who told her how highly favored she was to be chosen as the mother of the son of God. All married Jewish women dreamed of giving birth to sons. But wait. Hold on. Mary wasn’t married. Mary had never been intimate with any man, in fact. Yes, the angel was aware of that important fact. But this child to be born to this woman would be conceived by the overshadowing power of Almighty God himself. “For nothing,” said the angel, “is impossible with God.”

The Advent of Jesus Christ came to be because Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Those are some of the most courageous words ever spoken by any human being, I think. Mary was just a young girl. She wasn’t even married. People may have snickered at Elizabeth, the old married woman, when they saw that she was pregnant. But Mary’s pregnancy was a different story, entirely. If Zachariah had a hard time trying to communicate what the angel had said to his wife, Elizabeth, you can only imagine the conversation Mary had to have with Joseph. The courage she must have demonstrated. Even then, Joseph wasn’t buying what Mary said about the angel, and the pregnancy, and Son of the Most High. Joseph got a visit from an angel, himself, just to set the record straight.

So many qualities I admire about them, the three characters I’ve focused on during this Advent season: Zachariah, the priest and humble servant who was going about his business when Gabriel showed up, and left him with a speechless story; Elizabeth, the old woman who graciously accepted the mantle of birthing the one the prophets had said would come to announce that the Messiah had arrived; and Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus, who sang one of the greatest opening lines of any song ever composed:

“My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my
Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble stat of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me — holy is his name.” (Lk. 1:46-49)

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