At that time, Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she 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! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord.”
Followers of Jesus hinge everything on Advent. We believe Jesus has come. We believe God is restoring all things, and that one day all creation will be whole. But we’re not there yet. We’re in the meantime, that middle space between here and there. The meantime can be discouraging. There are seasons of pain and doubt and anxiety and fear.
How can we possibly persevere?
When Mary receives God’s promise, she isn’t given all the answers. How would she explain the Holy Spirit pregnancy thing to Joseph? How would she explain this to her community? She could be cast out (or worse). When we receive God’s promises, the questions usually outweigh the answers. God doesn’t need us to figure everything out, he just needs our “yes.”
Watch what Mary does next. This is huge.
She travels to see Elizabeth, another woman who recently received a promise from God. What happens during this visit? Elizabeth finds assurance in her promise as she discovers what she’s waiting for. Likewise, Mary receives confirmation regarding her promise when the baby inside Elizabeth’s stomach leaps for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice.
As followers of Jesus, Mary and Elizabeth show us how to navigate the meantime: together, in community.
Christian community is more than a gathering of folks. Social clubs gather. It is more than eating or drinking. Christian community gathers…with a purpose. We gather around Jesus.
Christian community nurtures the seeds of God’s promises, growing deep spiritual roots. Christian community gives new life to a brother or sister on spiritual life-support. How many Christians would have given up on God if not for the unrelenting support of brothers and sisters in Christ (pick me)? How many marriages would be in ruins if not for a Christian community? How many secret sins would devour a Christian’s life if not for a safe space to confess and start the road to recovery? Every Christian who receives Jesus needs an Elizabeth. Without someone sharing and affirming the Promise, the doubts and struggles of life will surely choke out Life.
Friends, our world is so desperate for this community.
We celebrate the strength of the individual, even in the church. Mentally strong, self-controlled men and women have no need for community. Social media gives us an illusion of community, but when the rubber meets the road virtual relationships are just that…virtual. We need tangible, Christ-centered relationships. Mary needs Elizabeth. Elizabeth needs Mary. And we need each other.
Christianity is a communal faith. It always has been. The promises of God need community to thrive and grow. We need community to navigate the meantime.
One last thing: community requires intentionality. When Gabriel appears to Mary, his words include a revelation of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. The angel, however, does not say, “You should go see Elizabeth. She will encourage you, and you will encourage her.” Mary travels to Elizabeth on her own initiative. Real, authentic community doesn’t just happen. It requires intentionality and vulnerability and courage.
Everyone walks the same road from here to there, a street named “Meantime.” Those who successfully navigate the road, with all its potholes, twists, turns, and dangerous intersections, do so together.
What does Christian community mean to you?
Father, you are a communal God, one who is with us. You desire connection and intimacy, both with us and for us. Give me the strength to press into Christian community. Thank you for the opportunity to share your promises with others as we journey from “here to there.” I love you. Amen.