Ein Kerem was one of my favorite spots in the Holy Land. We arrived in Tel Aviv the evening before, rode in our tour bus to Jerusalem, and walked into the Old City via the “New Gate.” Our hotel was in the Christian quarter. We had a nice dinner, and then went to bed. I woke up early that morning, my body still unaccustomed to the ten hour time difference from California, but I felt rested.
Ein Kerem is in a southwest “suburb” of Jerusalem, so it didn’t take us very long to get there. Tradition tells us that this is where Zechariah and Elizabeth lived, and where Mary traveled to see her cousin Elizabeth. Zechariah was a high priest in the temple of Jerusalem.
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. Luke 1:39-41
Can you tell which one is Mary and which one is Elizabeth? The artist was amazing. Mary is on the left. She is not as pregnant as Elizabeth, and Elizabeth looks older.
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” Luke 1:46-55
Our devotion at the Church of the Visitation was Luke 1:39-56. One thing to note is that when the Bible records John leaping in the womb of Elizabeth when she meets Mary, “the mother of my Lord,” there is no question that Jesus and John are distinct persons. God treasures all life, even unborn life. Psalm 139 states that he knows who we are and who we are going to be even while he is knitting us together in our mothers’ wombs.
Mary is extraordinary. I am not Catholic, so I do not pray to her or worship her in any way. She is a normal person, just like me, and God has given her a strong faith. She doesn’t doubt the angel when he says that she will bear a son with the Holy Spirit. She goes to see her cousin Elizabeth. Having seen these places, now I know that Nazareth and Ein Kerem are not very close to each other at all. What was a couple hours’ bus ride for us (passing through desert) must have been a journey of weeks for Mary. Yet she does that to see her cousin, then goes back to Nazareth to get married, then is taken to Bethlehem with her husband, Joseph. Bethlehem is also close to Jerusalem. She traveled more (and harder) while pregnant than anyone I know.
When she dedicated her son at the temple, Simeon told her that a sword will pierce through her own soul also (Luke 2:35), and what did she do? She “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Finally, many years later, she was at the cross and watched her son die. The sword did pierce her soul also. She watched him die, she grieved his death, and then she was blessed more than any other mother here on earth–she saw Him alive again! He was not just her son; he was her Savior.
Mary is mentioned again in Acts 1. While on the cross, Jesus arranged for her to be looked after by John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and she was with the disciples in the Upper Room after Jesus had ascended to heaven. No doubt she was an integral part of the early Christian church for the rest of her life.
As a mother, I look to Mary’s example. We know that our children will suffer hardship, loss, and sometimes even death. We can’t do much to prevent that in a fallen world. Swords do pierce our hearts, and our hearts bleed. One of our fellow pilgrims lost two of her children, and she is one of the strongest people I know, but not on her own account. It is because she clings to the promise of God. We know that God, who did not spare His only son, does not promise that we will not suffer loss and heartache in this world, but He does promise this (John 16:20): “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy,” just like Mary’s did. My friend will see her children again in heaven, because Jesus died on the cross for our children. He suffered and bled, while Mary looked on, and He rescued all of us from our sins. My friend’s children were baptized into Christ, just as mine have been, and through the suffering, we cling to the promise Jesus delivers to us in baptism. We will have joy.