Joy Overcomes Reproach
Luke begins his book in the Bible with the story of two women. Both were upright before God and were chosen by Him to birth a child who would have eternal impact on the world. The angel Gabriel visited the earth to announce the future to them. Because of the world's standards, one would have disgrace/reproach removed from her life; the other would have disgrace placed upon her. The first woman, Elizabeth, was well advanced in years, with no children, because she was barren. When her husband, the priest Zechariah, was selected to enter the temple to burn incense before the Lord, he was met by the angel Gabriel at the altar. Gabriel had miraculous news: "Do not be afraid Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John...He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth...And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the disobedient to the wisdom of righteousness—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." (Luke 1:13-17) Indeed, Elizabeth became pregnant and was overwhelmed with the goodness of God in choosing her. "In these days He has shown His favor and taken away my disgrace (reproach) among the people." (Luke 1:25)
The other woman chosen by God was just beginning her life. Mary, a virgin, was engaged to be married to Joseph, a descendant of David. Gabriel greeted Mary: "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end." (Luke 1:29-33) Of course, Mary was completely floored by the announcement; she was a virgin! The angel explained that Mary would be overshadowed by the power of the Holy Spirit for her to carry the Son of God. She was also told that her cousin Elizabeth was six months pregnant and that "nothing is impossible with God." (Luke 1:37) Mary's response was an indication of her degree of faith. "I am the Lord's servant...May it be to me as you have said." (Luke 1:38)
Can you imagine what must have been going on in Mary's head? “How am I going to explain this to Joseph and my family and friends?" And yet, both Mary and Elizabeth knew and believed the word of the Lord. "It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." (Isaiah 55:11) Mary went directly to Elizabeth's home in the Judean hill country where Elizabeth affirmed her: "Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord said to her will be accomplished!" (Luke 1:45)
Elizabeth and Mary spent about three months together. We can only guess how they spoke to one another concerning the future. My guess is that Elizabeth was a great comfort to Mary. She spent years walking in the reproach of her barrenness and knew what it was like to feel the rejection of her community. Mary was about to live in reproach (probably to a greater degree than her cousin) because of her pregnancy before marriage. I am sure that Elizabeth was a voice of experience and compassion who told Mary that God is faithful in the midst of difficulties. Mary chose to focus on the goodness of God and would not allow anything to steal her joy. "My soul glorifies (magnifies) the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of the humble state 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. His mercy extends to those who fear Him, from generation to generation." (Luke 1:46-50)
Jesus became familiar with the reproach that Mary experienced and warned us that we would also pay a price for carrying His presence. 1 Timothy 4:10 tells us, "...We both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God..." (KJV) Are we willing to glorify the Lord despite persecution? Mary paid a high price for carrying the seed of God. Yet, she is a shining example of one who dedicated her life to the will of God and expressed overwhelming joy along the way. Are we willing to do likewise?
Joan E. Mathias