We heard about Elizabeth at the beginning of Luke, but now we finally meet her. And she is a site to behold.
She is well along in years. It’s hard to know exactly what this means, but people place life expectancy at that time around 60 to 70 years. So maybe Elizabeth was in her late fifties or early sixties.
Older parents stand out. I know this because my father was sixty when he had me. And he was constantly being mistaken for my grandfather. Older parents are a little disconcerting, defying your intuitive sense of how things should be progressing.
Elizabeth looks ready to be a grandmother, but here she is pregnant.
And maybe a little awkward.
I imagine that because she is older, she isn’t one of those women who is carrying her pregnancy like a tiny basketball taped to the front of her body.
I imagine she has gained weight in every direction. She cushiony, fat, old, and very large.
When her very young, unmarried, and knocked up cousin arrives at her home, something amazing happens. Her son begins his ministry from her belly. He leaps in her womb. John the Baptist is doing his work of announcing Jesus in utero.
And then Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and starts talking in a LOUD voice.
Before we get to what she says. I want to dwell on this image.
Elizabeth defies every expectation placed on women in the church.
Older women in church are supposed to disappear, and be nice, and quiet, and bring cookies.
She creates community for her young cousin.
And these women begin to interpret their lived experience, exegete their own bodies, to create a theology that announces the new thing that is happening.
Maybe people thought Elizabeth should be quiet, her husband has been silenced. Zechariah is struggling, and his ministry has been put on hold. He is benched. Isn’t it her job to supportively stand silently at his side?
She is loud.
She takes up space with her giant, old, pregnant body.
With her loud voice.
With her opinions about what is happening to her and to Mary.
She is LOUD. She has things to DECLARE.
I repeat this, because everyday, in thousands of ways woman are told that we must be a very particular type of feminine when in Christian spaces. We must be white women. We should be smaller. Younger. Want spa themed women’s retreats. We must want to be married. We must adore motherhood. We must be careful of the male ego. We must not be too loud.
In disgusting and pervy Chrstiains spaces, we are told we are there simply for the sexual pleasure of our husbands ( school of Driscoll). Or that we must contain anything feminine and leaderly about us ( school of Piper). Or we should elect a predator to office, beause he will vote prolife. And that dirty old man’s reward will be that he can rape that child once she’s 14 years old. (School of Roy Moore, current school of Republicans.)
We are told we are a means to an end. We are told we can teach women, but not preach the pulpit. We are told that our bodies, our breasts, our butts are too feminine, too sexual, too problematic. We are told that we are a problem if we show cleavage, but also if we wear a hijab.
We are told that we should be more like white men, in our teaching style, our speaking style, our leadership style, our values. We are told to put part of our identity on hold to makes others comfortable.
And this opening snapshot in Luke says that all of that is garbage.
This old woman and this teenage girl are our first snapshot of community. And they are in beautiful and unapoligetic community with each other and the living God. Mary explodes into a theological reflection on what is happening, and later Jesus expands on those themes in the Sermon on the Plain.
These two women at the center of the story, creating a community of those typically silenced and unseen in theological and spiritual spaces, as Zechariah sits silently in the margins. How can a kingdom that kicked off with such a radical vision of liberated womanhood, go on to perpetuate such antiquated patriarchal misogyny?
I don’t know, but it needs to stop.
Elizabeth is taking up space with her big old elderly pregnant body.
And she is taking up space with her loud voice and prophetic declarations.
And she is creating an affirming and safe space for Mary. A community of women who defy respectability politics, expectations for religious women, and who are drawn to the center of the story by God.
And this is one of the opening images of the Kingdom of God in Luke.
This is the kingdom that we are waiting for during advent.
One where the elderly are not forgotten.
One where the young are not dismissed.
One where women are not silenced.
One where marginalized women exegete their lived experience to create theology in community with each other
Below are four women of color, that inspire me by resisting with their lives, bodies, and ideas. (Clockwise from top left.)
Nanaia Mahuta– New Zealand MP, first woman in parliament to wear a moko kauae, the traditional Māori chin tattoo.
Grace Lee Boggs– American author, social activist, philosopher and feminist
Rigoberta Menchu– Nobel Peace Prize winning K’iche’ political activist from Guatemala, publicizing the rights of Guatemala’s indigenous feminists
Angela Davis- a legendary American political activist, academic, and author