Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” The stories of the Bible still happen today. I saw Mary meeting Elizabeth in Walmart of all places. Two of our church members ran into each other in the aisle by the electronics department. The store was busy with shoppers and one said to the other, “Isn’t this crazy that it’s so busy? I get into Christmas but I don’t get into the shopping.”
And the other said, “I don’t either. In fact, I don’t buy presents for my kids any more—they’re adults. I just get gift cards for my grandchildren. My husband and I don’t buy for each other because we have everything we want. We live in abundance.”
The other said, “Preach it to me, my Christian sister.”
“Yes, I am your sister. And I’ll tell you what I do for Christmas. I call a local nursing home and get a list of the patients who don’t have families, as well as a list of their needs. And then I go shopping. I have more fun picking out their gifts, choosing colors, imagining them using the gift. It’s more fun than anything else I’ve done. And when I take those gifts to the nursing home, I can’t begin to describe to you the good feeling it gives me. What comes to mind is it makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.”
The other said, “You are preaching to me the sermon that it’s better to give than to receive. What a wonderful testimony! You don’t know what a difference you’ve just made in my day. You’ve been a shot in the arm.” They hugged, and went about their shopping. That was Mary and Elizabeth all over again. They have found the joy in the season.
The biblical story tells of two pregnant women. A special presence, a new kind of life is growing and being created within them. Elizabeth is beyond the normal age of being able to bring forth fruit from her womb, while Mary is hardly old enough to bring forth fruit from her womb. It’s a picture that shows the contrasts – that God can bring forth new life, and I’m talking about new life in your spirit, no matter what age a person is in this earthly life.
One image this story gives is what it looks like to be born again. Both women discover a new person is growing inside themselves. Elizabeth is further along in the process and she recognizes it in Mary right away when others who haven’t gone through those early days of nausea and turning stomachs would not see it. Both women are excited and amazed and overflowing with joy about what is happening to each other.
For you men, don’t feel left out. The story applies to you, too. The Greek word for ‘womb’ also applies to the innermost parts of a person—the soul or the heart as the center of thought, feeling, and choice.
St. Paul wrote in one of his letters, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” Just as Christ was conceived and grew within Mary in a physical way, Christ is conceived in us by the Holy Spirit, and he grows within us. To be born again is to enter into the process of spiritual growth, which is sometimes a very slow process, and sometimes, it’s faster – depending on God’s timing. Ultimately, you bring forth a new and blessed fruit from deep within you.
St. Augustine had a conversion experience when he was in his twenties. Afterwards, he was walking down the street inMilan,Italy. He met a prostitute whom he had patronized in his pre-conversion days. She called out to him, but he wouldn’t answer. He kept right on walking. She called again. “Augustine, it is I!” Without missing a beat, he replied, “Yes, but, it is no longer I.” Augustine was a changed man. His actions showed it. Christ was now living and growing in him.
John the Baptist said, “The one coming after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” How do we know if we are born of the Spirit and have Christ growing within us? Is it because we have had a memorable conversion experience? Is it because we have followed the tradition of the church and let the waters of baptism cover us up?
Or maybe it’s in what Elizabeth said to Mary when she recognized Jesus was conceived and growing inside Mary. Elizabeth said, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” What was the fruit of Mary’s womb thatElizabeth could see, only days after conception?
The fruit was most certainly the physical conception of the baby Jesus. But in a spiritual sense, the fruit in Mary’s womb was also the fruit of the Spirit that St. Paul says will be in us. It’s the fruit that develops in us that shows we are a new creation. He says the fruit of the Spirit “is love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”
In contrast, he also lists the fruits that are of the world: outbursts of anger, jealousies, hatred, selfish ambition, envy, drunkenness, hurtful actions – these are not fruits of the Spirit, and he says they will not inherit the kingdom of heaven (Gal. 5:19-21).
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like that means I must have twins growing in me because I seem to have both kinds of fruit showing up. I suppose the one that grows strongest depends on which spirit you give more time to, which one you feed.
You and I are a lot like Elizabeth and Mary. When new life is growing in us, we can recognize it in others. We can recognize the presence of Christ, conceived by the Holy Spirit and beginning to grow in someone when we see the fruits of their womb. The spirit of Christian witness will jump for joy within us when we see Christ in others.
When you recognize Christ in people because you see peace and love radiating from within them, you too can say, “Blessed is the fruit of your womb.”