21 December 2010

Luke 1:39-45

"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." (v. 39)


At one level this story could be taken as a story of necessity. An embarrassing pregnancy is dealt with by a stay in the country with relatives. At this level it is a deeply human story and the medieval sculptures of this visitation (such as this one from San Juan de Ortega in northern Spain) rarely fail to capture the tenderness of the moment - two women holding each other in rapt attention to movements within their bodies; two women who are barely able to believe the extraordinary purposes of God in which they are caught up; two women needing affirmation in flesh and blood that this is real. 

At the same time, this is a deeply important story in Luke's narrative. As the Gospel of John opens by intertwining the story of the Word becoming flesh and the heralding role of John the Baptist (John 1:1-18), so here Luke joins together the stories of these two radical preachers from their conception. For Luke, the child, John, is no rival for Jesus (as some contemporaries clearly thought). Here, he is the first to greet the barely conceived Christ - a foretaste of his words at Jesus' Baptism (Luke 3:15-17). The second person to acknowledge this child as Messiah is John's mother (vv. 42-43) as she names Mary, "the mother of my Lord". (Although 'Lord' could mean simply mean 'master', it is more likely that Luke is using the term of the post-resurrection Church which was adopted to speak of the risen Christ.) 

Yet the person credited as the first believer in the Messiah is Jesus' mother (v. 45). She trusted in Gabriel's words that her son would inherit the throne of David. In the speech of Elizabeth's, (v. 42b) known in some churches as the "Hail Mary", Elizabeth pronounces Mary 'blessed' or 'happy'. It is the same word used of Jesus at his Baptism (Matthew 3:17) and it echoes the blessings of the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12). It denotes the joy (v. 44) that comes to those who have found their place in the unfolding story of God. This is what has happened to both Elizabeth and Mary. Their lives will not be easy; there will be many trials to face; yet their faces and bodies radiate with an intense peace and joy at playing their part in the drama of incarnation. 

To Ponder

Why do you think was it important to the Gospel writers to establish the 'correct' relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus?

What experiences have you had of needing to spend time with someone who is experiencing something similar to what you are going through?

How would you describe the experience of finding your place in God's unfolding story?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jane Leach

Jane writes on ministry, pastoral supervision and pilgrimage..