Advent: A Reflection on Luke 1:39-45

December 19, 2021

When I contemplated this familiar passage about Mary and Elizabeth to write this post, I found myself lingering on the very first line: “Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste…” 

To be honest, it was a part of the passage I had never stopped to consider before. In fact, I’m not even sure that I noticed the one line describing the journey before. Instead, I usually jumped straight to the part where Mary and Elizabeth greet each other. 

This time, however, I felt compelled to stop after the first line and consider what Mary must have been feeling along the journey to see Elizabeth. Only one line captured a journey of almost eighty two miles to see her cousin. Eighty two miles traveled at best on donkey, at worst on foot. Even if Mary traveled “in haste”, it would take her days to get there. That is a lot of time to think. That is a lot of time to wonder about this life growing inside of her and the promises she had just made to God and the angel. It is a fair amount of time to walk, ride, or travel for a newly pregnant woman, too. 

So, what would that journey have looked like? What would Mary have felt, thought, and considered along on the road? 

I discovered over time that pregnancy, especially the first few weeks, looks and feels different for everyone who has experienced it. Some women love being pregnant. Some express feeling, from the very moment of conception, life growing within them. They are confident, hopeful, excited, and filled with joy. Perhaps they have been waiting for this moment, and feel instantly it is the answer to their prayers. Others have more complicated feelings around pregnancy, especially in those first few weeks. Maybe they carry the weight of prior miscarriages or pregnancy loss or infertility. Maybe they are concerned about the possibility of genetic differences or disabilities that could occur and what that will mean for their child and for them. Maybe the pregnancy was unexpected, and for a myriad of reasons, the stress of what is happening weighs on them. It’s different for every situation. 

As I imagined Mary traveling along the road for over eighty two miles, I couldn’t help but wonder what those first few weeks of pregnancy looked and felt like to her. In my mind, she drifted between joy and stress, excitement and worry, hope and fear. I wondered if the first part of Mary’s journey might have focused on the question of: “Am I really pregnant?”

At least, that was how the first few weeks of both my  pregnancies felt for me. 

I wondered that a lot early on myself. When I took a test at five weeks along and read the news, I was excited. But that initial excitement was replaced by a lot of uncertainty. Five weeks was too early to go for any tests, too early to hear a heartbeat, too early to have any internal confirmation that what I read on the test was true. My confirmation arrived at 7 weeks when the intense nausea set in. 

As I continued to ponder the scripture, I imagined the moment when nausea might have set in for Mary. Maybe she was twenty or thirty miles into the journey. Maybe the road started to feel a little more bumpy than usual. Maybe she had to ask her guide (if she had one) to pull the donkey over so she could rest and regain her equilibrium. 

I considered if this could have been the moment she felt the internal confirmation of the angel’s news. Maybe, for her like for me, it was a moment of both sickness and joy. 

But did this confirmation and joy she might have felt turn into feelings of fear as she set back on her journey? 

Mary was young. She was about to be married, but she was not yet. She had never planned to be pregnant before her wedding. She had not even talked to Joseph yet. I imagined that along this road, with the angel long departed from her and the baby growing inside of her, she wondered, like many pregnant women do in those early weeks today, how she was going to handle it all.

I remembered the fear rushing over me as I sat at nine weeks along in the doctor’s office and saw the two distinct heartbeats on the screen. We had a two year old who was not yet talking and already had some delayed milestones. I thought we could handle a second child, sure… but I never anticipated two at once. It was a weird dichotomy – the fear and joy wrestling in my heart as I imagined the two blobs wrestling inside of me.

Eighty two miles on a donkey or on foot is a long journey. Throughout it I imagined that Mary went through a myriad of emotions until the final moment when she saw Elizabeth, heard her words, and felt the comfort of her embrace. 

Spending time contemplating the journey of Mary to Elizabeth helped me connect a little more to the human Mary. It helped me reflect on the beauty AND the struggle in this epic journey of hers. Maybe it can do the same for you as well. 

As we move through the final days of Advent ask yourself: 

  • Where has there been beauty and struggle in your own story? 
  • How can Mary’s journey give you comfort and courage along the way?
  • Who are those you turn to when life takes an unexpected turn?

Journeying with Mary along the road gave me faith that Mary is journeying along the road with me as well. Contemplating the eighty two miles before she met Elizabeth reminds me that God is not only present to us at the destination but in every twist and turn along the way.

Go Deeper:

  • Using the prayer method of Lectio Divina, consider praying with Luke 1:39-45 from the fourth Sunday of Advent, or any other readings from Sunday.
  • Pray an guided audio Lectio Divina of Luke 1:39-45. 
  • Check out our other praying with scripture resources here

Photo by KaLisa Veer on 


Gretchen Crowder has served as a campus minister and Ignatian educator for the Jesuit Dallas community for the last fifteen years and counting. She is also a freelance writer and speaker. She has a B.S. in mathematics and a M.Ed. from the University of Notre Dame as well as an M.T.S. from the University of Dallas. She resides in Dallas, TX with her husband, three boys, and an ever-growing number of pets.

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