4 Advent C – 12/23/12 – From the Wombs of Women
Today’s gospel celebrates the tenacity, faith and courage of two prophetic women. Mary and Elizabeth lived in a place and time where and when women had few opportunities to make choices about their own lives. These two did.
In many areas in the Middle East social institutions, traditions and religious laws continue to keep girls and women at a disadvantage in schools, the workplace, in divorce cases, and as victims of violence.  These cultural aberrations did not emerge overnight but over long periods of time.
In ancient Israel, for example, the man was the dominant member of the household. Many biblical episodes speak about women as property of the husband, slaves in market place, rape victims in their homes, powerless and impoverished people in the community. A woman’s first duty was to give birth to a son to continue her husband’s name and lineage.
Today’s gospel is an incredibly powerful story in this cultural context where women were perpetually treated as inferior human beings. From the first moment we meet Mary in the bible we know that she is an extraordinary young teenager — feisty and fearless; willing to challenge the assumptions of the status quo.
In the ancient Middle East women never traveled alone but usually in groups or caravans.  Yet, the gospel tells us Mary may have walked three or four days alone to visit Elizabeth. Mary is not the meek, weak, docile, silent woman so often depicted in art and devotional prayers.
This story celebrates women’s participation in God’s work.  God depended upon women to bear the message, to announce the Word, that the world can be a bright and safe place for all. Think of the craziness. Elizabeth was too old get pregnant; Mary was a virgin. Can you imagine how frightened and giddy they must have been. Yet, each one said “yes,” I can do this. Those decisions not only changed their lives but ours as well.
In that moment Elizabeth proclaims Mary to be full of grace and Mary responds with a revolutionary song of praise (Luke 1: 46-55 is unfortunately omitted from today’s gospel). “My soul proclaims your greatness, God. You have shown strength; you have scattered the proud in their conceit; you have deposed the mighty from their thrones and raised the lowly to high places. You have fed the hungry with good things, you have sent the rich away empty …”
One has to question why some major religions continue to keep women from opportunities to stand equally with the men who are delegated to proclaim this very same message.
Homiletics scholar Barbara Lundblad tells us that Mary went to the house of Zechariah but spoke to Elizabeth. The man’s house became the house of women while the tongue of the priest (Zechariah) was silenced. The bouncing baby in Elizabeth’s womb was a revelation  that God was about to stir things up on earth. Ah. Peace on earth at last from the wombs of women.
These two women who belonged to a class of poor people (the anawim) speak to you and me about the experience of God in our lives. It is not defined only by the doctrines of organized religions, magnificent church art and architecture or an all male model of leadership. Instead these two women make a strong case for liberating all women from worn out stereotypes.
As one parishioner told me, “the two women did what women do — they connected. Whether it’s breast cancer, violence, births, deaths, work [or play] — women reach out.” As the season of Advent gives way to Christmas we are given yet another opportunity to say yes like Mary and Elizabeth did. We can connect with and support one another. We can gather our strength and convictions, to reach boldly into our imaginations and give birth to the kindom of God where peace and justice reign for all human beings.
2 Pilch, John J. The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle C (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press) 1997. pp. 10-12.
3 Rachel G. Hackenberg “Joy to the Women” in
4 Lundblad, Barbara. Classnotes from “Got Sermon” Series, October, 2012, Union Seminary, New York, NY