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Mary and Advent

I hope you are having a wonderful Advent. I’ve got the joy of reading Amy Orr-Ewing’s Advent book ‘Mary’s Voice’ which concentrates on the nativity story in the gospel of Luke. In his account of the birth the Jesus, Luke gathers first hand witness accounts to engage Theophilus in the good news of Jesus’ arrival. Rather unexpectantly Luke turns to Mary and Elizabeth as witnesses. Although Mary is the mother of Jesus, a woman’s witness was not valid testimony, so by simply including Mary and Elizabeth in his narrative Luke’s very first chapter subverts the power structures of the day.

Amy Orr-Ewing reflects on Luke 1:43-45, highlighting the difference between Zachariah’s unbelief and Mary’s belief; Zachariah’s disbelief that his wife would bear a child leading to his silence, and Mary’s belief in Gabriel’s words culminating in Elizabeth’s shouts of joy when Mary visits her. Amy writes:

‘Mary is presented by Elizabeth as a model for us as readers of the gospel - we should not be like Zachariah who didn't believe the promises he was given; we can encounter Jesus ourselves - and as we believe what is true, we too will be “blessed” - happy and fulfilled. Blessing and believing belong together. It is no mistake that the weak, the powerless, the disregarded, the disempowered, the women, are able to see and trust. Mary's and Elizabeth's two voices are the chorus of witness. The representative of religious power has been silenced for a while, and the two eyewitnesses to the incarnation are humble women who have believed something true. This in itself is a cause for wonder, and it reminds us that when it comes to Jesus, outsiders are included, the humble are lifted up, and women have a voice. Happiness and fulfilment are to be found in believing the truth. ‘[1]

What a paragraph! It was the disempowered women who were able to see and trust – Elizabeth, who was likely ostracised for being childless, and Mary a young woman in a patriarchal world. This is where belief, hope and trust were found. The more power we gain, the less we need God, and the more we find ourselves mistrusting the miracle when it comes our way, just like Zachariah. When writing about the disempowered Elizabeth and Mary, it’s no surprise that these are the people who can really see and trust. Where are we reliant on our own strengths and understanding and forgetting to trust in God?

This passage talks about power dynamics, but also about belief and promise. I love the moments when I read the Bible and Jesus says “peace I leave with you”, and spending the time with the Spirit learning how to live in that promise daily. Something I can struggle with when the washing up is piling up, the dog has run mud all over the carpet and I’ve forgotten to buy that important meal ingredient for that night’s dinner! I also love it when God whispers a prophetic word and I can see what’s coming but have to patiently wait on God. So often I can get distracted though, and forget what God has said. I’m pretty sure Mary couldn’t be distracted from the bump slowly growing on her tummy, but so often what God says can take a while to physically manifest. Take a moment to remind yourself of what God has promised, be that from scripture or from a specific word. Sit with it for a while and let God remind you of who he is, and what he is capable of. Let’s not hold out like Zachariah, but let’s step into God’s promises like Mary.

Jo Allen Director: South West

  1. Amy Orr-Ewing, ‘Mary’s Voice’, (New York: Worthy, 2023) p.24


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