Today, I stood in the rainy school playground with a Bangladeshi mum. Like me, she stands there everyday, waiting with a small boy for her older two children to emerge. In between toddler chasing, we chat. About grocery shopping. About the weather. About school breaks and growing kids. I told her that my parents are coming to visit this week and she mentioned that her sisters will also be arriving shortly. She has five sisters. Four live in different parts of the UK and one is still at home in Bangladesh with their parents. She says it is good to get together when they can. To be sisters together.
She also said that her oldest son is jealous. He doesn’t have a sister at all and she has so many. Yes, she told him, but he has aunties and that’s not bad. Not bad at all.
I wonder how Mary thought of Elizabeth. We know they were relatives – some say cousins, though there seems to be a jump in generations. Elizabeth was much older – old enough to be considered past childbearing – and Mary was young enough not to be married. Before their pregnancies, these two may not have felt they held much in common. Yet miraculously, they found themselves sisters in pregnancy.
For the first five months of her pregnancy, Elizabeth stayed in seclusion. Maybe it was a hard pregnancy, her older body quaking at the demands of growing new life. Or maybe she felt precarious. Or obvious. Or uncertain. She had not heard the angel’s promise. That was for her husband, Zechariah, and it had overwhelmed him to the extent that he couldn’t believe it was true. Doubt stilled his tongue, and Elizabeth had to share the news of their expected baby on her own. Yet despite whatever gossip or social murmurs that may have caused, we know that Elizabeth saw her pregnancy as a gift, even a personal blessing.
“This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”
Then the heaviness started. Her balance shifted and the bones in her feet ached in the night. She noticed new freckles on her hands. Then she heard that Mary was also expecting a child. Too soon by the sounds of it, so Elizabeth asked if she would like to come for a visit.
And we only hear the singing. It’s a wonderful captured moment. We don’t know how the conversation went – what tips and questions they traded, what they worried about. We just hear Elizabeth’s blessing and Mary’s mighty Magnificat. We hear that thrown together by their out-of-season expectations, they created a space where they might support each other as sisters. They didn’t have the wisdom of maternal experience to rely on and they couldn’t begin to predict what the future would hold, either for themselves as new mothers or for their God-promised sons. But they could create a space where they were safe together to sing out the songs of their own expectant hearts. This, too, is the light we see when we light the candle of love.
My song choice for today is Bob Dylan’s The Times They are A-Changin’ but I’d like it sung by Joan Baez. Imagine this as Mary’s song, because it so very nearly is. So bold, so prophetic, singing of glory, justice and change. Sing it, sister, and amen.
My image comes from our Sunday night. Sunday was St Lucia Day that beautiful Scandinavian feast day with saffron buns and candled wreath crowns. For the past few years, good friends have shared their family tradition with us, knocking on our door before school to bring us sweetness and lovely light. This year, their tradition has become our tradition. The buns were delicious and I will be baking more.