Written as an email conversation between Elizabeth and Mary, this year’s Advent Reflections (published first in The Methodist Recorder 25th November 2023) have been written by Ruth Parrott (CoChair North) and Bronwen Braisdell (Communications Officer).
They can be used locally providing the above acknowledgements are made.
Week 1: Luke 1:5-23
Subject: Amazing News!
You’ll never guess my amazing news, so I’m going to tell you – I’m going to have a baby!!!
After all these years of praying, waiting and embarrassment because we were childless. And, just when I’d realised we were too old and had given up hope, this happened:
You know that Zechariah, my husband, is a priest; well, it was his division’s turn to be on duty at the temple, so they cast lots to see who would go into the inner sanctuary to burn the incense while the others were praying, and Zech won. When he went in, there was an angel – yes an angel (!) standing there (how he’d got there, I’ve no idea) but he told Zech that I was going to have a baby boy and we were to call him John. Fancy that – not Zechariah. That will get the neighbours talking for sure. Gabriel, that was the angel’s name, said that the baby was going to be special in the sight of the Lord and would be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will never drink wine, so I don’t know what we will give him to drink, but he is to be God’s messenger, a bit like Elijah, and he will be as wise and will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. Zech thought he was joking and refused to believe him, but Gabriel said he was God’s messenger and still Zech refused to believe him, so the angel struck him dumb ,and he has not spoken a word since. We’ve resorted to sign language, so it’s been very quiet in our home!
I’m trying to take it easy as pregnancy at my age is a bit of a challenge, so I must stay at home and rest. I am so excited that I keep dancing and singing. It would be lovely to see you. If you would like to come and visit, just let me know.
How have you experienced God speaking to you? In what ways has it changed your life?
Lord, help me to recognise when you are speaking to me and help me to be responsive to your call. Amen
Week 2: Luke 1:25-38
The news in your email last week, came as a great shock to me and I’m not surprised that Cousin Zech has lost his voice!! Expecting a baby at your time of life is a miracle. Still, it only goes to show that prayers can be answered although it clearly wasn’t what Zechariah was expecting from his daily trip to the temple.
I’m sorry I’ve not replied sooner but I’ve had some unexpected news myself. Well, an unexpected visitor actually. I can tell you because you will understand, it’s been hard to know what to say here. Poor Joseph doesn’t know what to do for the best. I was visited by an angel! I know it sounds impossible, but honestly, it’s true. He stood there in my house and told me that I would become pregnant – at my age! Joseph and I have barely held hands, let alone…. But there’s more, Cousin. This angel told me the child I would bear would be the Son of God. I know it sounds unbelievable – and yet as he said it, my heart filled with joy, and I felt a great sense of peace. Elizabeth, it’s a difficult situation, as you must understand only too well but it feels right to me – if God has chosen me for this task, then who am I to say no.
I’d appreciate a friendly face though, so I thought I’d come and visit you soon. I think Joseph needs some time to get used to the news and to decide what to do.
How would you react if God asked you to do what seemed to be an impossible task?
Mother God, Mary responded to your call despite the fear of gossip and rejection. Strengthen me and help me to put my trust in you. Amen
Week 3: Luke: 1:57-80
Subject: Another miracle!
How are you and has your sickness subsided? Has Joseph come round yet and is he taking care of you? Take no notice of the gossip; you know your baby is to be God’s gift to you both and the world! Every day I think of your visit, for the secrets we shared. I know you have been truly blessed as I felt John leap for joy inside me when you arrived – I nearly fell over, his kick was so strong! We must meet more often while our babies are growing so they can get to know one another, and we can compare notes. This is quite a responsibility.
I can hardly contain myself – I have exciting news: John has been born! It was a relatively easy birth and for that I am grateful, especially at my age. He is a beautiful baby with a very loud cry; both Zech and I have bags under our eyes from the sleepless nights, but he is so very precious, and we are very grateful.
Another miracle has happened – Zech can speak! We took our baby to be circumcised eight days after he was born but the priest wanted to call him Zechariah. I was having none of that as the angel had said he was to be called John, so I called out ‘No! He is to be called John!’. He argued that it wasn’t a family name and wouldn’t take ‘John’ for an answer (Women don’t have much say, do they?), so he asked Zech. Well, Zech indicated that he wanted a writing tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John’. Our guests stood there with their mouths open, especially when Zech suddenly found his voice and started praising God for the gift of his son. We are the talk of the town! I think they realise that John is no ordinary baby. He is a strong little thing, and we must take care of him. We are so proud and thank God every day for blessing us. I just hope we live to see what God has in store for him!
I will wait eagerly for your news. Do let me know how you are going on.
There are many people in our churches with hidden gifts. Do you actively look for the potential in others and encourage them?
Loving God, you recognise the potential in every human being. Help us to nurture and encourage when we recognise that potential in others too. Amen
Week 4: Luke 1: 39-56
Subject: Another Angel
How happy I am to hear your good news – and so relieved that your labour was easy and that John is a healthy boy. I didn’t want to come home after spending so much time with you but 3months was a long time to be away from Nazareth, but I hoped it was time for the gossip to die down. Thankfully the sickness has stopped and I feel positively blooming!
In fact, I have some rather exciting news for you. On my return, Joseph called unexpectedly to see me – and told me that we were going to be married! Now that was a shock I can tell you although I was also delighted. Whilst I have been getting used to the idea of becoming a mother the thought of having to bring up such a special baby on my own was quite terrifying. I kept recalling the song of praise that spilled from my heart when I met up with you dear cousin. A song prompted by your baby leaping inside you and the blessings poured onto me. My knowledge that God my Saviour cares for me, that the all-powerful God has blessed me with a baby so special that others will call me blessed, has been quite a burden to bear and on the journey home from visiting you I became quite overwhelmed with the responsibility – yet I still trusted.
So, when Joseph came and told me that we were to be married, I cried – with a mixture of happiness and relief that he was going to be with me. And guess what, Joseph was visited by an angel too! Just before I returned home Joseph had been thinking about us and our situation, and had convinced himself that our marriage could not take place, when an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. Apparently, this angel made it quite clear to Joseph that my faithfulness to him was not in question but that the baby I am carrying is a gift from God – and that we should go ahead and marry as planned. In fact, the angel even told Joseph what to call our baby – Jesus, because he will save his people.
Who would have thought it – another angel, another special name – our babies definitely seem destined to live special lives, God-fearing lives.
Only a few months to go now – the wedding will be a quiet one and then I pray for an easy time until my baby is born.
Much love, Mary x
There are many pregnant women who are seeking asylum in our country. How can we discover how to help them and provide for their needs?
Loving God, open our eyes and ears to see and hear the world as you see it. Help us to show your love and compassion to those yearning to be accepted. Amen.
Week 5: Luke 2:1-7
Subject: Change of Plan!
Jesus is born! My beautiful son is fast asleep beside me, and I can’t stop gazing at him – my heart is so full of love for this miraculous gift from God. Joseph too cannot take his eyes off him and is as proud as if Jesus is his own flesh and blood.
Because of the census our plans had to change so unfortunately Jesus isn’t lying in the beautiful crib Joseph made for him; instead he is in the manger they use for the animals a seems very bright tonight and I am lying on a bed of clean straw – but do you know Elizabeth, I am so full of joy it doesn’t matter. The stars are shining, one in particular seems very bright tonight, and I am just filled with wonder at the fulfilment of God’s promise to me. I hope that baby John is not tyring you too much – I can’t wait for you to meet Jesus.
Love Mary x
Subject: Good News!
How wonderful – praise God for your safe delivery of Jesus! What a journey you must have had; you must be worn out!
I thank God for his precious gifts of John and Jesus. I have a feeling that this is only the beginning and that you and I have been entrusted to nurture our children and must be prepared for God to work through them and us. It will not be easy. We must trust in God, for he holds all our futures in his hands. Halleluiah!
With much love,
Praise God for his wonderful gift of Jesus and spread the good news far and wide!
God of surprises, we praise and thank you for your wonderful gift of Jesus, and of John who was born to prepare the way for him. As we celebrate this Christmas time, grant that we may be like Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, and be faithful to your calling. Amen
The Angel Gabriel visits Mary. (Christmas Crèche Museum at Stamserhaus, Austria)
Photo by Ruth Parrott