Editor’s Note: On Saturday, May 31, we remember the visit of Mary (the mother of Jesus) to Elizabeth.

Make ready for the Lord a people prepared.

That’s what our ministry is all about: making ready for the Lord a people prepared.

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth … .” (Luke 1:26).

Thus begins the Christmas story from Luke’s Gospel, introducing us to Mary who would become the mother of Jesus the Christ.

Each year we hear those words. But did you ever ask yourself, “In the sixth month of what?” Of the year? Of the reign of King Herod?

Actually: In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.

The coming of the Messiah who was to save the entire world is marked by the timing of two women’s pregnancies.

The story of Elizabeth, the unlikely mother because she was old, contrasts the unlikely pregnancy of Mary, too young, and too unmarried.

The story of the birth of the baby who would become John the Baptist begins in the more scripturally traditional way: In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a man named Zechariah, who belonged to a priestly order.

It is written that his wife, Elizabeth, and he were righteous, living blamelessly.

An angel appears to Zechariah. Both Zechariah and Mary hear an angel say, “Do not be afraid.” The text says Mary was perplexed; Zechariah was “terrified and fear overwhelmed him.”

Zechariah asks for a sign. Mary simply says, “How can this be?”

And then Mary is told about Elizabeth, now six months with child. Mary was a virgin.

Elizabeth is barren. Nothing will be impossible with God. After these words of assurance, Mary says: (the Latin) “Ad sum” – Let it be to me as you have said.

And then we see the two women, old and young, helping one another – Elizabeth with acceptance and respect and wisdom, Mary with praise and prophecy and servanthood, helping aging Elizabeth and serving her God in bearing God’s child.

And what about these two babies yet to be born?

Again the parallels – The angel to Zechariah: “Your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son, and you will name him John.”

To Mary: “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. He will be given the throne of his ancestor David and reign over the house of Jacob. Of his kingdom there will be no end. The child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.”

About John: “He will be great in the sight of the Lord … must never drink wine or strong drink. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth.

“He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him.” We don’t even know who this “him” is yet, except it will be the Lord their God. In this preparatory story we need this “made ready for us.” We need this because the angel speaking to Mary doesn’t actually call Jesus “Lord.” But as Luke lays out the stories, so intricately connected with two expectant women, we the readers are beginning to be made ready for what will be too amazing for us to believe. This one to be born, John,” will turn hearts of parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous.” He will make ready for the Lord a people prepared.

To make ready for the Lord a people prepared.

Do you hear the sounds of Malachi?

“See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight — indeed he is coming” (Malachi 3:1).

The connection between these women continues in Luke’s Gospel. (1:56) “And Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months.” (Almost until the time of John’s birth.)

The parallels also continue as we sing in the sanctuary Gospel Canticles of Mary’s “Magnificat” and Zechariah’s “Benedictus.”

It must be important to the Gospel writer because we are told of Mary’s and Elizabeth’s serving sisterhood even after the previous verses already have told us of John’s birth.

This unfolding of the story of God’s incarnation is important to us who never fully understand, who are surprised and afraid. We are being made ready. Our hearts and minds and lives are being prepared. And so our ministry must unfold. Our proclamation to people who still have not heard. And to those who need to hear again, in a new way.

How will we make ready for the Lord a people prepared? Prepared, in a fear-filled time, to not be afraid when they — we — too are called to bear Jesus Christ. In this time of great challenge, what in the world are you called to give birth to?

How will we make ready for the Lord a people prepared? Prepared to receive the power of the Holy Spirit. In this time of feeling powerless, what in the world is the Spirit who fills our very being, empowering you to do?

How will we make ready for the Lord a people prepared? Prepared to have their questions answered, hearts turned, wisdom received?

How will we make ready for the Lord a people prepared? Prepared to serve one another, old and young, carefully listening and tending and waiting.

How will we make ready for the Lord a people prepared? Prepared to enter the sanctuary with praise and prophecy? Magnificat. Benedictus.

Make ready for the Lord a people prepared.

Norma Cook Everist
Norma Cook Everist is professor of church administration and educational ministry at Wartburg Theological Seminary. She holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Denver and Iliff School of Theology, a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School, a Master of Arts in religion from Concordia Seminary and a Bachelor of Arts from Valparaiso University.

Read more about: