Now is the season of carol services and Nativity Plays. Once again we hear the familiar stories of the birth of Christ. Each time we will notice something new or different, such is their hold over us. Even in our secular time when people no longer know their Bibles the Christmas stories remain very well known.
Today's Gospel, the story of the visitation of the BVM to Elizabeth is less well known. Yet it is part of the story, coming as it does in Luke's Gospel between the Annunciation and the Magnificat. What can we discover?
- Mary set out and went with haste. As with other scenes in the Nativity stories there is a journey of faith with accompanying risk. Mary little more than a girl, pregnant out of wedlock, sets off with some urgency to visit her relatives Elizabeth and Zechariah in the hill country of Judea. In those times women would not usually travel alone, and such journey would have exposed Mary to dangers human and animal. There was also the risk of scandal, exposure and rejection. Likewise the Christian life entails a similar willingness to set out in faith, even if it seems risky and open to ridicule.
- Recognition. Luke's purpose is to reveal how John the Baptist is the forerunner who points to the Messiah, hence the story about John leaping for joy in Elizabeth's womb. Elizabeth too recognizes the significance of Mary and her visit. 'Blessed are you amongst women and blessed is the fruit of you womb.' Such recognition, Luke tells us, is the gift of the Holy Spirit. It can't be kept a secret; it has to be shared joyfully. In our Christian lives the ability to see others as God sees them and to encourage them to exercise their gifts is of great value. For Mary this was affirmation of what she had until then kept to herself, that she was to be the mother of the Lord.
- Fulfilment. Mary is blessed because she believed 'that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.' Her acceptance of the angelic message, her faithful 'yes' to God was an expression of her belief that the promise would come to fruition. One of the great difficulties of the journey of faith is carrying on when the going gets tough, or some times when nothing much seems to be happening. It is faith in God's promise that there will be a fulfilment that keeps us going.
- Worship. Luke then records Mary's hymn of praise to God that we know as the Magnificat. Drawing on the song of Hannah in the O.T. Mary takes up many of the themes we have just considered. She also speaks of the reversal of worldly power that the birth of her son heralds. Mary draws us to join with her in worship given to God through her Son.
- As with all the Christmas stories the story of the visitation is best read slowly with plenty of pauses and gaps. In them we can let our imaginations range and find much to inform our prayer and discipleship. In the hectic days ahead we will wish to seek to find some quiet moments to receive the great message of Christmas anew.
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Last updated 21/12/2002 09:00:00 Author: Fr David Shepherd