Grace Church, Honesdale
About this time Mary set out and went straight to a town in the uplands of Judah. She
went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard Mary’s
greeting, the baby stirred in her womb. Then Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit
and cried aloud, “God’s blessing is on you above all women, and his blessing is on the
fruit of your womb. Who am I, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? I tell you,
when your greeting sounded in my ears, the baby in my womb leapt for joy. How
happy is she who has had faith that the Lord’s promise would be fulfilled!”
Everything about this story of Mary going to visit her cousin, Elizabeth is wonderful. Imagine Mary’s feelings as she walks her dusty pilgrimage upcountry, imagine her worries and curiosities. After all, she is to be a very young mother (in a time before ours when we try to offer our daughters years to mature). She will be visiting an older female cousin who may well offer knowledge and affection. For Mary this is an outer and an inner pilgrimage of the utmost importance.
Now think about Elizabeth, overjoyed to be pregnant herself. How open and generous she must have been to recognize right off that Mary’s pregnancy was particularly special, particularly honored. And she recognized this because her baby, John, knew it too and moved. He leapt, yet! A whole circle started by the angel’s announcement to Mary, continued through Mary who is now speaking herself, but speaking what the Spirit counsels, to Elizabeth who is a direct conduit to John, himself to be a conduit to the people announcing the coming of the grown-up Jesus!
Years ago when there were only a few ordained women in the Episcopal Church I sat in a service one Sunday morning and heard one of these courageous women preach a wonderful Advent sermon. In place of the usual sports metaphors using 50-yard lines and home runs and goals counted we heard for the first time from the pulpit about the blessings of pregnancy and of motherhood. It was startling and, it turned out, necessary. We considered the value of waiting, of anticipating, of preparing, of listening to our bodies, of trusting our own knowledge, of loving what happens to us whether or not it was in our original plan.
After Elizabeth’s welcome, Mary replies with words which literally ring with holy harmony. We call these words of Mary’s the Magnificat and they complete today’s reading. She starts,
“Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord, rejoice, rejoice, my spirit, in God my savior; so tenderly has he looked upon his servant, humble as she is.”
And Mary gets to stay for three months with Elizabeth! By the time she goes home, another long, dusty pilgrimage, she must be nearly half way to delivery and Elizabeth must be nearly ready. Joseph has had time to miss her and prepare for this very difficult future he has agreed to. Don’t you think he must have been listening to the Holy Spirit too?
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