One of the more touching moments in the Christmas narrative comes after Mary, miraculously pregnant with the baby Jesus, journeys to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, also miraculously pregnant. Together, the two women recognize this honor and rejoice at the role they play in God’s plan.
The story is told in the Gospel of Luke, which contains the most descriptive information about the conception of Jesus and the impact of such a miracle.
As we read in the account, “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:41).
What is the significance of Mary visiting Elizabeth? Not only does it teach us much about faith, but it also confirms God’s plan and shows us how we are to celebrate when we are in a similar situation.
What Has Happened Just Before Mary Visits Elizabeth?
Before the visit, we’re first told of the priest Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, who was “righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly” (Luke 1:6). But Luke also tells us they were childless and very old, which was a disgrace at that time in their culture.
However, one day, when Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, the angel Gabriel appeared to him and said Elizabeth would bear them a son, John (v. 13).
Moreover, the angel said John would be a prophet in the power of Elijah, who would “turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous — to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (v. 17).
Elizabeth was overjoyed at this honor and secluded herself for a time, praising the Lord for this miraculous pregnancy and God’s favor upon her (v. 25).
Then, when Elizabeth is six months pregnant, the angel Gabriel visits a virgin, Mary, in the town of Nazareth and informs her that she is favored by God and is to conceive and birth a child, Jesus, who will be called the Son of the Most High and will reign over her people forever (Luke 1:30-32).
Gabriel further explains she will become pregnant because of the Holy Spirit and the power of the Most High, and the “holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (v. 35). He also tells Mary, her cousin Elizabeth is also miraculously pregnant.
Mary accepts this important role, telling Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant …. May your word to me be fulfilled” (v. 38).
What Does the Bible Say about Mary Visiting Elizabeth?
Right after this, we’re told Mary hurries to make a 90-mile journey to visit Elizabeth — which at that time, without vehicles, would have likely taken four to five days, possibly longer. When Mary got there, she went into the house and greeted Elizabeth.
The Bible says that when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, “the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:41).
Elizabeth then loudly exclaims that Mary and her unborn child are blessed and that Elizabeth is favored by the visit by “the mother of my Lord” (v. 43). She also tells Mary her unborn child leaped in her womb for joy.
Mary then bursts into a praise-filled song called The Magnificat, rejoices in God, acknowledges the grace she has received, declares God’s victory, and confirms this as part of God’s larger plan in the world (v. 46-55).
Why Does Mary Visit Elizabeth?
We’re not told why she visits Elizabeth, but we can certainly imply that she — having just been told by Gabriel, her cousin is also the blessed recipient of a miracle — wanted to be with someone else who could understand what she was going through.
Perhaps she also, filled with the Holy Spirit, was compelled to visit Elizabeth as a way of bringing divine grace and confirmation of God’s holy work in them both.
Why Is This Visit Significant?
Mary’s visit to Elizabeth is significant for a number of reasons:
1. Mary, and the unborn Son of God, brought God’s grace and confirmation to both of them. Mary’s visit was not an easy trip but a huge inconvenience involving physical risk and lengthy travel.
But it was necessary — and the grace and confirmation it brought caused the Holy Spirit to fill Elizabeth and made the child in her womb leap.
2. It shows Mary’s faith. We know from Mary’s words to the angel Gabriel that she believes him and accepts her role as mother to the Son of God.
But her actions — making the roughly 90-mile journey to visit Elizabeth — show her faith as well. It’s a reminder of what James says in James 2:17, that “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
3. It shows Elizabeth’s faith. The visit also shows Elizabeth’s faith. The Bible tells us Elizabeth was overjoyed when she became pregnant, but when her unborn child leaped, and she herself was filled with the Holy Spirit in the presence of Mary and her unborn savior, she didn’t just marvel at this.
Rather, she exclaimed “in a loud voice” that both Mary and her baby were blessed and that Mary was carrying the Lord (vv. 42-43). She spoke her faith aloud for anyone to hear.
4. It provides an opportunity for celebration. Not only were they filled with the Spirit, but the women celebrated their joy together. Mary sang a song of deep praise that glorified God and confirmed God’s plan for them.
5. It’s a good example of the importance of Christian fellowship. Neither woman was familiar with the word “Christian,” a term that wasn’t even created until after Jesus’ death.
But gathering together to celebrate and draw comfort in this miracle is exactly what we should do. God’s people are supposed to be in community with each other. Not only is it helpful, but it also enables the power of the Holy Spirit.
6. Some consider this to be Jesus’ first miracle. Many consider Jesus’ action of turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana to be his first miracle (John 2:1-11).
The Apostle John notes that it was indeed “the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory” (v. 11).
But Jesus’ unborn presence caused Elizabeth to be filled with the spirit and Elizabeth’s unborn child to leap, which many feel is a miracle in itself, or at least a divine act of major significance.
7. It was John the Baptist and Jesus’ first meeting. We’re told that Elizabeth’s unborn child is John the Baptist, who baptizes Jesus with water and plays an important and biblically significant role as the one who prepared the people for the coming of the Messiah in accordance with ancient prophecies (e.g., Isaiah).
But while as men, they reportedly don’t meet until the day Jesus asks John to baptize him (Luke 3:21-22), this moment, as unborn souls, is technically their first meeting.
8. It shows an example of what we should do when faced with a calling or assignment from God. In the course of our lives, God calls us to do things outside of our comfort zone, even at the risk of death, whether that is moving to a foreign land to become a missionary or taking an unpopular stand for faith that results in imprisonment or worse.
Surely Mary could have been aghast at the perils of her new role — after all, being pregnant but unmarried might bring her disgrace or even cause her to be accused of and condemned for adultery, a crime punishable by stoning.
But she willingly accepted her assignment and, even more, rejoiced at it. This is exactly what we should do when God asks us to do something to fulfill his plan.
What Does This Mean?
The Bible tells us Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months and then went home. Later, Elizabeth did indeed give birth to John the Baptist, and Mary gave birth to Jesus, the Messiah.
As mothers, these women played hugely important roles in their sons’ lives, and we can learn much from them.
For further reading:
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Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.