Thursday, August 25, 2011

I'll Go Tell Elizabeth: Reflections on God's Plan for Friendship

I’ve been cleaning out closets and digging in drawers for the last two weeks. In the process I’ve found some old CDs and have been loading them in my iTunes library. Today, I uploaded a really old CD of even older music – an artist named Ken Medema. Some of the more, ahem, “seasoned” among you may know who he is – a blind singer/songwriter/pianist extraordinaire especially popular during the 1970s-80s. Most of all, to me, he is a God-gifted story-teller that has you bent over laughing and then sobbing within seconds. He re-imagines the humanity of heroes in Bible stories that have grown too familiar to us with repeated hearing but no meditation. I was totally taken in again today listening to a song entitled, “I’ll Go Tell Elizabeth.” The song is written from Mary’s perspective and ponders her longing to connect with someone who understands her plight, after finding out that she has been chosen to be the mother of the Messiah (for crying out loud). Imagine how consoled she must have been when she heard that her cousin Elizabeth, her VERY OLD and very barren cousin Elizabeth, was pregnant too. She too must have been coping with living in the realm of the impossible as her body, “advanced in years,” was stretched to nurture the growing form of John the Baptist, cousin and “forerunner” of Jesus. This is a short excerpt from the song:

“So many things are happening to me that she’ll understand. Now that she’s pregnant her life isn’t going exactly as planned. The plans we both made are like birds’ nests blown down by the wind and the rain, and we’re scattered like straw and we can’t quite tell where to find saneness again. I’ll go tell Elizabeth…”

As I listened I was moved by the kindness of God’s plan – again. The story recorded in Luke 1 of the angel announcement to Mary is one of my favorites. God has repeatedly revealed transforming truths to me in this story over the years. Meditating on God’s Word is like the turning of a kaleidoscope, new loveliness revealing itself with continued gazing. Today I was drawn to one particular facet of this beautiful story – Elizabeth.

Old Testament prophets foretold the coming of John the Baptist before Jesus, to “prepare the way” for Him, and that is exactly what He did. But how kind of God to plan in advance that John would not only be forerunner, but also family! Mary and Elizabeth, mothers of John and Jesus, would not merely be two characters in one chapter of Luke. Instead they would be joined in a much more intimate way. Nothing about their connection is random - God positioned them at a certain time, in a certain place, in a certain family. And he positioned them for intimacy - the kind of closeness that satisfies the longings of a woman’s heart and provides nourishment for her soul – especially in times of turmoil. Elizabeth and Mary provided for one another the understanding, empathy and joyful celebration that the rest of their family was surely struggling to offer at the time. Who else could have known the mix of incredible joy and awesome fear that accompanied their God-sized assignment? They exchanged words of encouragement and affirmation that could only come from another woman living in the shadow of God’s power, purpose and promise.

God knew that Mary and Elizabeth needed one other. The name “Elizabeth” means consecrated to God or chosen by God for a specific purpose, and surely she was chosen perfectly for Mary! The weaving of their lives together must have strengthened their resolve and broadened their perspective of God’s elaborate plan. When they met in Luke chapter 1, praise and blessing erupted like a chemical reaction between them:

Elizabeth said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb…And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Luke 1.42,45 ESV

“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.’” Luke 1.46-48 ESV

Surely this is God’s plan for the relationships He has so carefully crafted for us – that they would overflow with blessing and praise! I am so grateful for the many perfectly suited friends God has provided for me over the years and I see in Mary and Elizabeth’s friendship the best parts of the ones God has given me:

Friends that love Jesus like I love Jesus! Friends that love me no matter what – even when they see my ugly! Friends that are open and humble and courageous enough to let me see their ugly. Friends that choose to bless instead of succumbing to the temptation to compare and compete. (There isn’t a hint of jealousy on Elizabeth’s part that Mary was chosen to bear the son of God and she, only His forerunner – just a mutual thanksgiving to be a part of God’s plan!) Friends that speak truth over my life – and by truth I mean the unchanging truth of God’s Word – not human opinion. Friends that strengthen my resolve to believe God! Friends that are focused on the glory of God but also humbled by the mercy of God. Friends that forgive! Friends that help identify the work of God in my life. Friends that are unselfish and undemanding. Friends that are generous without expecting anything in return. Friends that cause praise to be released – God to be magnified! These friendships are what God desires – what God chooses, and this is the kind of friend God wants me to be. Why? Because friendship can so beautifully reveal His own nature, His own heart, His great love. What an amazing gift and opportunity to reflect Him!

I close with one of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes from The Four Loves:

“But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,’ can truly say to every group of Christian friends ‘You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.’ The Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others. They are no greater than the beauties of a thousand other men; by Friendship God opens our eyes to them. They are, like all beauties, derived from Him, and then, in a good Friendship, increased by Him through the Friendship itself, so that it is His instrument for creating as well as for revealing. At this feast it is He who has spread the board and it is He who has chosen the guests. It is He, we may dare to hope, who sometimes does, and always should, preside. Let us not reckon without our Host.”

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

Glad I'm not the only person still remembering and thinking about that song and this story.