Surprised by the Spirit

“Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.’” -Luke 1:41-42

Read: Luke 1:39-45
After a missed turn, I found myself in the cathedral of Alajuela, Costa Rica, staring up at the altarpiece of Nuestra Señora del Pilar. Because the “Hail Mary” is foreign to my Anabaptist tradition, I was surprised by the words that came unbidden to my mind: “Hail Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”

The words of this prayer, originating in Elizabeth’s exclamation upon seeing Mary, have been prayed for centuries. Long before the events at Pentecost, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and breaks out into ecstatic, prophetic speech. Elizabeth herself must have been surprised as she experienced this unexpected outpouring of the Spirit in the context of a friendly greeting between family members. Imagine the surprise of being overpowered by the Spirit while carving the Christmas turkey!

Elizabeth’s encounter with the Spirit foreshadows the experience of the church today even as her words continue to serve as a powerful prayer for many Christians within that church. The fruit of Mary’s womb, Jesus Christ, was indeed blessed, and his birth inaugurated a new season among God’s people. We can share Elizabeth’s spirit-filled exclamation as we give thanks for the ways that God broke into the world through Jesus and continues to surprise us through the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.

Holy Spirit, thank you for inspiring Elizabeth to recognize and proclaim the presence of Jesus. Help us to follow her lead as we continue to see you at work in our world this Advent season.

Melanie A. Howard, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies, Fresno Pacific University