Thursday, December 7, 2017

Thinking about Elizabeth and Aging in this Advent Season

This Sunday, my church will hear the story of Mary's reunion with her cousin Elizabeth.  You may remember that both women are pregnant, and both women should not be pregnant:  Mary because she is unmarried, and Elizabeth because she is barren.  I have always assumed she is barren because she is older.  One version of Luke (earlier in chapter one) notes that Elizabeth and her husband are "very old."

Some years, it's Mary's part of the story that speaks to me:  a young woman, inexperienced, still under control of her elders, with something strange happening.

This year, I confess it's Elizabeth.  I think of all the ways that one's body changes not only with adolescence, but with old age.  I think of my own 52 year old feet, not swollen with pregnancy, but with arthritis.  I cannot imagine pregnancy right now.  And Elizabeth was older than I am.

I spent my younger years declaring that biology isn't destiny:  we can do whatever we want, no matter what bodies we inhabit. 

My middle-aged self is willing to admit that biology is often destiny, in ways we can't imagine when we're young. I'm seeing too many people at the mercy of bodies that they have increasingly less control over.  I've seen far too many people ravaged by the cancer cells that take over.

But the Mary and Elizabeth story reminds us of the body's miraculous capacity.  This year, I'm focused on life springing from improbable places.  I'm thinking of these pregnancies as metaphors, and it's Elizabeth's pregnancy that speaks to me this year.

In a culture like ours that worships youth and beauty, it is good to remember that God doesn't discard us when we might think we've outlived our usefulness.  We may look at our past decades and sigh over what we have not achieved.  God looks at us and sees so much potential.

Let us be like Mary and say yes to God.  Let us be like Elizabeth, ready for a new life, even if we're not sure exactly where it will take us.

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