When we open the Gospel according to Luke, we immediately meet an elderly woman named Elizabeth, the wife of a Jewish priest, and a young girl named Mary, engaged to marry a carpenter. Barren Elizabeth is now six months pregnant in her old age and will later give birth to John the Baptist. Mary, likely in her early teens, is also pregnant, but uniquely by God’s Spirit, not by sex with any man. After her encounter with God’s angel and her agreement to become the mother of God’s Messiah, Mary journeys on foot the seventy miles from the province of Galilee in the north to the highlands of Judea to visit her cousin Elizabeth. For both women their pregnancies were supernatural.
We may not think of bearing and rearing children as “work” and wonder why an article on women in the workplace should begin with two pregnant women. But in both cases, these women were partnering in God’s work to invade a broken and sinful world and reverse the grip of evil on people’s lives. This partnership required real work. There would be physical work in bearing and rearing these special boys, to be sure. But Mary and Elizabeth embraced the prospect of this work joyfully. Mary captured the significance God intended for her work in her song that we call the Magnificat:
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. For he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant…He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:46-53)
Giving birth was not the only meaningful work Mary did in her lifetime. She also played a role in Jesus’ adult ministry. Yet the part of her story that inspires us today is how she trusted God’s purposes despite the difficult work it would mean for her.