How about little Christmas in July?
There’s this passage of Scripture that normally only gets read around Christmas time, but has some timeless truths about friendship.
Luke 1:39-56 is the only place we read about the friendship between two women, Mary and Elizabeth. Mary became the mother of Jesus even though she was a virgin. Elizabeth became the mother of John even though she was past child bearing years and said to be barren.
At the time of the events in Luke 1:39-56, neither woman had given birth. Mary had only just found out from an angel that she would be the mother of the Messiah. And she also found out that her relative Elizabeth was six months pregnant with the baby who would become the Messiah’s forerunner.
After finding out she was to be a mother, Mary hurried to visit Elizabeth. Going to visit Elizabeth was the very first thing Mary did after saying, “I am the Lord’s servant. May Your Word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38)
Mary probably still had some fears and questions about being a mother, and a mother. She had no idea how her family and friends and fiancé would react to her pregnancy. There were preparations she would have to make to get ready for her Baby’s birth.
So Mary goes to visit her older, wiser relative; a woman who was “righteous in God’s sight, living without blame.” (Luke 1:6)
Mary understood that Elizabeth’s pregnancy was also a miracle: “She who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.” (Luke 1:36) I imagine Mary was hoping that in visiting Elizabeth, she would find someone who would be understanding and encouraging to her, offering wisdom and support as she stepped into God’s will.
And that is exactly what Mary did find:
Here are some things we learn from the friendship of Mary and Elizabeth about being a friend:
Don’t compare yourself to your friends
We all get caught up in the comparison trap. Scrolling through social media and seeing pictures of smiling friends on their fun adventures with their cute boyfriends, feeling our lives are empty and boring in comparison. Hearing about an achievement or accomplishment of another woman, which makes us feel like our lives aren’t as important or meaningful. Noticing the beautiful looks of others and wanting to hide our ugly selves away.
It would have been very easy for Elizabeth to get caught up in comparisons. In comparing her calling to bear John to Mary’s calling to bear Jesus, and feel she had been slighted by God. She was older. She had lived a righteous and blameless life. She had been waiting for a child longer. Why wasn’t she the one chosen to bear Jesus?
But, easy as it would have been, Elizabeth didn’t compare. She chose joy over jealousy.
When we compare, the joy seeps out of the friendship. We’re not able to celebrate our unique qualities. We’re not able to rejoice with each other over special ways God is working in our lives. Little seeds of bitterness and resentment begin to sprout, and these cause division rather than deepening friendship.
Be encouraging and supportive
In life, we walk through times that are hard, scary, and messy, we take steps into the unknown to pursue our dreams and be obedient to God, we enter into seasons of waiting. In all this walking and waiting, we need, and we need to give, encouragement and support.
When Mary came to visit Elizabeth, the first words Elizabeth spoke were words of blessing.
Elizabeth blessed Mary. She didn’t criticize her. She didn’t tell her all the ways she needed to improve before the Child arrived. She didn’t point out faults and failings that needed to be fixed in order to be a good mother. She didn’t say, “I hope you know what you’ve gotten yourself into. We’ll see if you can do this.”
No, she said, “I know you can do this. Because God is going to be with you every step of the way.”
This isn’t to say we can’t let our friends know when they’re making decisions that are harmful and unwise. This doesn’t mean we can’t give godly advice. But it should be done to lift up rather than to tear down.
Share in praise
It’s nice to have those friends we can vent to about the annoying stuff, but it’s even better when we can also share the good stuff; when we can talk about how God is working, and rejoice together.
Immediately after Elizabeth blessed Mary, Mary offered up praise to God. This passage of Scripture is found in Luke 1:46-55 and is known as Mary’s Song. And what a beautiful song it is! Mary’s spirit is rejoicing as she recounts the many wonderful works of God.
If Elizabeth had compared and criticized, would we now have the pleasure of reading this beautiful song of Mary’s? Would she have sung these words of praise out of a heart that was inspired, or would her heart have been too hurt to form a melody?
The first words Mary spoke upon seeing Elizabeth weren’t complaints about her situation or how hard it was going to be, they were words of praise. They declared her faith in God.
Even with out friends who aren’t followers of Jesus, we can choose to share in celebrating the good stuff. Rather than being jealous or negative, we can express thanks and be positive, and this can be our own declaration of faith in God. No musical talent required.
Be there for each other
Being a woman isn’t always easy. We need each other. We need to be helping hands and listening ears and shoulders to cry on and cheerleaders.
Luke 1:56 tells us that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months. Elizabeth was already six months pregnant, so Mary would have been with her during the end of her pregnancy. She would have been able to help Elizabeth as she got the last minute things ready, as she became heavy with carrying the baby, as the excitement and nervousness built at the approaching birth. Mary may have even witnessed the birth of John as she supported his mother.
And as Elizabeth’s pregnancy was coming to an end, Mary’s was just beginning. She would have been with Elizabeth during her first months of carrying the Promised Child. Elizabeth would have been able to help Mary as she began to prepare to be a mother, as waves of morning sickness hit, as her body adjusted to the Body inside of her, as fears and questions ran through her mind.
The timing of these births was no coincidence. God planned to have Jesus and John be six months apart not only so John could be the forerunner to Jesus, but also so Elizabeth and Mary could be there for one another during these stages of their pregnancies. Just like He said He would, God took care of each woman through the help and support of the other.
In Mary and Elizabeth’s friendship, we, 2000-plus years later see the faithfulness of God to fulfill His promises. For faithful friends are reflections of God’s faithfulness.