Kristine Aragon Bruce and I attended seminary together. I was a wide-eyed newbie; she’d been in the program for a couple of years already. She took me out for coffee to help me navigate the new landscape, and from then on we were fast friends.
She’s always been a step ahead of me–first to graduate seminary, first into the pastorate, first to get married, first to have kids–and in that way it feels like she’s the big sister I never had, there to offer advice when I seek it, and a “This too shall pass,” when that’s what I need most. In many ways, she’s been my Elizabeth.
These days she pastors in Chicago, and though we live many miles apart, I will forever be in her debt and on her team.
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Partners in the Waiting
by Kristine Aragon Bruce
I’m a skeptic at heart. An ironic confession coming from a pastor, but there you have it.
So whenever I read about someone in the Bible who immediately starts praising God after experiencing a traumatic and life altering event that is the result of something God has called them to do (I know, I know, all things are possible with Jesus, blah blah blah) I have to wonder: Did they really immediately start jumping for joy while singing God’s praises? Or were they only able to do so after some intense sessions with their therapist?
I wonder the same thing about Mary when she finds out she’s been chosen to birth the Son of God into the world. She’s probably only fourteen years old, engaged to be married with a seemingly long and fruitful life ahead of her. But she’s about to lose everything.
The logical thing for her fiancé to do is to leave her, since she’s with child. Mary has gone from having it all to possibly losing everything.
In Luke 1, however, Mary sings a song of praise and humbly accepts her role as the mother of the Messiah. She doesn’t at all seem worried about the consequences she will surely face having “conceived” out of wedlock.
Perhaps Mary’s steadfast faith came from knowing she didn’t have to shoulder this news, this joy, this burden alone. She has her cousin Elizabeth to lean on.
Elizabeth, who could also serve as Mary’s confidant, knew what it was like to have God do something impossible in her life. I like to think this is why Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months, so they could support one another in their moments of freaking out over the fact that God had just upended both of their lives.
They would also have each other when they were in awe of the fact that God had chosen them to play monumental roles in God’s grand plan for humanity. This comes back to a reoccurring theme for me in ministry and what God seems to be doing in my own life lately. When God calls us do something we are never asked to do it a lone.
I pray more when I have a prayer partner. I read the Bible more when I have someone to study the Bible with. It’s true for everything else in my life, and I’d wager it’s true for you, too. I run more when I have a running partner. I eat better if I have someone who promises to eat healthy with me. More than one person is needed if there is going to be any sort of encouragement, support, and accountability.
It might be obvious, but it can be hard to execute.
Perhaps Elizabeth did serve as Mary’s therapist. Luke doesn’t give us those details. But what does matter is that Mary wasn’t alone when she received this life altering call on her life from God. She had a friend in Elizabeth who affirmed what a privilege it was to bear God’s son into the world. It wasn’t until after Elizabeth’s affirmation of Mary that Mary broke out into that song of praise.
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” –Luke 1:46-47
Mary praises God not just for choosing her, but that God proves yet again he has not forgotten his people, the poor, the lowly, all those that the rest of the world intentionally ignores.
None of us were ever meant to follow God alone. Mary had Elizabeth. Jesus had his disciples. Paul had Timothy, Barnabus, Mark. And we all have Jesus Christ who remains with us even during the times when we freak out over whatever he is calling us to do next. I think that’s something worth singing about this Advent Season.
Who is your “Elizabeth?” What qualities would you need in a confidant who could help you to see all of God’s blessings in your life?
If you had to write of “Song of Praise” to God what would you write about?
Kristine Aragon Bruce is the Associate Pastor for Family Ministries at First Presbyterian Church of Glen Ellyn in Glen Ellyn, IL. She’s married to Matt, who teaches at Wheaton College and reads all of her sermons for unintentional heresies. They have two kids: Phoebe who aspires to be a “Shark Scientist” and Jenson who answered this question with: “I love bacon.” Obviously they are winning at this parenting thing.