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The Intergenerational Ministry of Mary and Elizabeth

Written By: Kaleigh Bishop

One of my favorite Biblical examples of intergenerational ministry comes from what we typically think of as, “The Christmas Story.” If we take the time to study this passage, we will see a powerful example of what can happen when generations work together in advancing the Kingdom of God.

Luke chapter 1 begins with the story of a prophecy set in motion by Elizabeth, Zechariah, and their baby, John the Baptist.

Despite painful years of infertility and the sorrow of growing past the age to continue hoping for a miracle, a miracle does indeed come and Elizabeth becomes pregnant. (Luke 1:13) Around this same time, seventy miles and a three day walk down the road, yet another prophetic miracle was taking place. Mary, Elizabeth’s cousin, also becomes a powerful example of a life that seeks God above all else as she steps into her place in God’s redemptive story for His creation.

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail. Luke 1:35-37

Looking at this story from the bird’s eye view of two-thousand years and with the entire Bible at our fingertips, the angel’s passing comment about Elizabeth may not hold as much weight as it did back then to Mary. We may even pass over the fact that it was the very same angel that foretold John’s birth who visits Mary.

But the angel’s words were a lifeline to the shell-shocked mother-to-be. Mary doesn’t hesitate; she immediately rushes to the one person who would understand what if felt like to be pregnant, against all odds, and every physical limitation with a prophetic miracle.

39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea,40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her! Luke 1:39

What an amazing moment in God’s story! We see two women, powerful in their faith, bearing the weight of the one that was foretold and the one who would foretell. These amazing women experienced the very first mention of “being filled with the Holy Spirit.” Not only did God promise that Elizabeth’s baby would experience the Holy Spirit before he was even born, but Elizabeth herself was an active participant in this historical moment. Elizabeth, with no hesitation and no timidity, begins to bless Mary and her baby, speaking words of encouragement and confirming the angel’s words over Mary; words that Mary had not even shared.

Matthew Henry says that, “It does not appear that Elizabeth had been told anything of her cousin Mary’s being designed for the mother of the Messiah; and therefore what knowledge she appears to have had of it must have come by revelation, which would be a great encouragement to Mary” (commentary, Luke 1:39-56). I can only imagine how sacred that moment felt to those women, as they saw the long-awaited promise of God to his people unfold in front of their very eyes, through their very bodies.

Up to this cataclysmic moment in their lives, Mary and Elizabeth could not have been more different. Mary was young, engaged, at the precipice of what must have seemed like her “happily ever after.” Elizabeth was fifty years older than Mary, barren, cast aside and forgotten by society. Yet God didn’t see their age, their inexperience, or their so-called shortcomings. He saw two hearts who were willing and obedient to his Spirit and he used their vastly different stories to kickstart his miraculous redemptive plan for all of humanity.

Mary could have disregarded the angel’s comment, believing that Elizabeth was too old and too set in her ways to understand Mary. Elizabeth could have pushed Mary away, annoyed by a little, ignorant girl and refused the Holy Spirit’s promptings. Instead, these two powerhouses stepped out in extreme faith, responded in culture-shattering obedience, and advanced the Kingdom of God together. They supported each other, encouraged each other, and believed in each other when society wanted to mock them and crush them.

Can you imagine what the women of the IPHC could accomplish today if we responded to the world like Mary and Elizabeth?

The Holy Spirit has given you eyes to see and words to speak. Younger or older, I encourage you to boldly follow where the Lord leads you, and to lean on each other as we advance the Kingdom of Heaven!

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