My young cousin Mary had always been a slip of a girl. Still was. Thin, awkward, in the way of all teenage girls. But when she walked in the door that summer day, my stomach seemed to explode. My son John, sheltered in my womb for several more months, kicked me so hard I had to sit down. Twisting and turning like a captured lamb — with strong hoofs — he understood what the sound of Mary’s voice meant.

He knew that within her young body grew Jesus, the son of God. From the start John seemed ready to join him, to get going, to do the work that God had called him to. Over the next few months, we pieced together the strange and yet wonderful details of our pregnancies. I was too old to have children. Mary was unmarried. Yet God had intervened, sending the same angel, Gabriel, to announce the birth of these holy boys.

Years later, Mary would face the deepest grief known among women — the murder of her son. By the time my son was beheaded, I would be in the grave. Thank God for that small blessing. Yet on that wondrous day, and for the next several months, we leaned on each other as no two women have.

She was scared; had every right to be. This pregnancy — without having slept with Joseph — had put her life on the line. Other girls like her had been stoned, their bodies left for the birds. Still others, scorned and with babies in tow, were forced to fend for themselves in dark alleys throughout the night.

I believed Mary when she said she was a virgin. How could I not? The ways of women had long passed me by, and yet I too was expecting a son. We laughed. We cried. One day Mary told me that the first thing Gabriel had said to her was, “Be not afraid, for you have found favor with the Lord.”

I think I have found that favor, too. Slowly I began to let go of fear — thanking God daily for the honor of giving birth to the one who would announce the coming of the Lord.

This story, second in a series of Advent meditations, has been written in the same first-person style as The Scarlet Cord: Conversations with God’s Chosen Women. The mother of John the Baptist, Elizabeth’s story is found in Luke, Chapter One.