Thoughts on the Word:
Luke 1:39-55 (NRSV)
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’
There are many at this time of year who struggle, who feel marginalised, ostracised or oppressed. There are many who mourn the absence of loved ones - and some who mourn their presence... There are many who struggle with the stresses of this season as we desperately try to meet the cultural expectation spend up big. There are many more who feel the stress, and the accompanying shame and guilt of not being able to provide adequately for their loved ones. There are no doubt many of you listening to (or reading) this right now who identify with this pressure, stress, or marginalisation. Today's Gospel reading is for you.
We begin today's Gospel scene immediately after the annunciation (the appearance of the Arch-Angel Gabriel to Mary to advise her of her virginal conception), during His appearance Gabriel also advised Mary of Elizabeth's pregnancy, and following his departure, Luke tells us that Mary '...set out with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth'. Mary is eager to see her cousin, who like her has miraculously conceived a child, Mary knows the ridicule and marginalisation that Elizabeth has endured due to being barren, and she is eager to confirm for her the work of God in all that is happening. Mary no doubt is also seeking the support and consolation of her cousin, as she becomes the subject of scorn in a society that didn't look favourably on unwed mothers.
The baby in Elizabeth's womb leaps at the sound of Mary's voice - seemingly recognising that the Lord of Lords is present. Then the Holy Spirit fills Elizabeth, who exclaims those words which are so familiar to those of us who come from the Catholic side of the faith - 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb'! These words are read and spoken so often by Christians, and often the focus in our mind is on what they tell us about the Blessed Virgin, however I want us to consider this a little deeper than the obvious statement about Mary being blessed. I wonder have you considered that this is the first proclamation of Jesus coming as Lord?
Consider the scene for a moment - the first proclamation of the the coming of the Messiah who will redeem Israel, and indeed the world is anticipated and proclaimed, not by archangels or high priests or emperors or even ordained preachers. Rather, two marginalised, pregnant women—one young, poor, and unwed, the other far beyond the age to conceive—meet in the hill country of Judea to celebrate (and possibly commiserate about) their miraculous pregnancies. A baby leaps in the womb and blessings are shared. Astonishment is expressed and Songs are sung.
Yes, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings is first acknowledged and proclaimed by two women... Two women who were no doubt the subject of much ridicule and stigma - Mary after all was an unwed pregnant teenager - consider how today's comparatively liberal society still denigrates and looks down on women in the same situation, and then consider how it would have been for her living in ancient Jewish society where such a situation was not just embarrassing - but shameful. Likewise consider how society still treats women who have reached their mature years without ever having had children - there is, shamefully in today's world still a stigma, a view that these women, are incomplete - not real women, or that they are simply selfish. Imagine then the views expressed of barren Elizabeth, who had not born any children, in a society where family and heirs were how your worth were expressed - Where a woman's worth especially was determined by how many sons she bore her husband.
Yet it was these two, ostracised, marginalised women whom God chose to bring the final prophet of the old covenant - John - and the fulfilment of that covenant - Jesus - into the world. It was these two women who first proclaimed the coming of the King! We see in this account the first tearing down of barriers to the Kingdom, the first signs of what the coming reign of Jesus will be like. The Kingdom which leads St Paul to write in his letter to the Galatians that 'There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.' (Galatians 3:28 NRSV).
The story of these two pregnant women, with their mutual support of and confirmation of each other, a story of two marginalised and scorned women and their faith, tells us much about this creator whom we worship. It tells us that God does not look on us with human eyes. When God looks to us Hesees who we are, in our deepest being. When He looked at Elizabeth He didn't see the woman society sees, He didn't see a woman who deserved to be ridiculed, or judged. He didn't see a woman who needed pity - rather he saw a woman who would bear the prophet who would prepare a way for the Lord! He saw a woman who would be the FIRST to proclaim the coming of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
Likewise when God looked to Mary, and chose her to bear Jesus, He did so because He could see who she truly was. He knew that this poor, peasant girl in her heart was destined to be the mother of God incarnate. He knew that it was Mary who had the love, the purity of heart and the faith required to become the mother of God. He knew that she would suffer ridicule, and her condition would be considered shameful, and so of course did Mary when she said ‘...Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word...’ (Luke 1:38), She knew that she would be an outcast, but she chose to accept God's will for her life - and truly since then all generations have called her blessed!. God knew that Mary was right for the task that He had planned for her, just as he knows that you are right for the task he has planned for you.
As we await the coming of the King, dealing with the stress, the sadness, the loneliness that comes to many at this time of year, Let us take comfort knowing that God knows us - really knows us, and loves us - really loves us. God does not hold our failings and faults against us - indeed they are all forgiven through the redeeming work of Jesus, when we place our faith in Him. God knows what you are destined for, he sees in you, your true potential and your true purpose. I invite you to turn to him, and to hand over your stress, your feelings of loneliness, or rejection to Him, and when you do, be prepared to say to Him - what ever path he lays out before you - 'let it be done to me according to your word'.