A reflection on Luke 1:39-55 for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 19, 2021.
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.’
And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
Luke 1:39-55 (NRSVA)
It is an extraordinary moment when Mary, the younger, greets Elizabeth, the elder.
It starts out with expected cultural protocols: the more youthful doing the travelling and, as the guest, entering and offering her ‘greeting’ to her elderly relative.
Everything from here, however, is backwards.
The older, unborn child, John leaps at the presence of the younger, unborn Jesus. The older wife of a religious leader, Elizabeth, offers her generous blessing acknowledging her own sense of privilege at this visit from the younger Mary. Elizabeth, who clearly believes that a miraculous child is growing insider her, points to the faith of Mary. This teenager’s faith seems be exemplary – not only to the reader, but also to the ageing Elizabeth. ‘…blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’
Perhaps it is no wonder Mary is inspired to sing her song of praise – and prophecy.
There is movement in this soul-song. Mary begins by rejoicing over the miracle that is occurring in her own life and body. Her spirit is enraptured by the ‘favour’ showered to her by the God she names ‘Saviour’. This young girl is – perhaps – only beginning to recognise the significance of the life she is bears.
I’d so, at the same time she is also grasping at the cosmic implications. Mary believes it will not only be Elizabeth who will call her ‘blessed’. Unborn generations will echo this old woman’s spontaneous gift of such favour.
To be sure, Mary acknowledges the generous blessing of God over her and her life: ‘the Mighty One has done great things for me”. From there, however, her lyric points infinitely beyond herself. Mary celebrates the implications of the foetus insider her for generations to come. This one will impact the for the ‘proud’, ‘powerful’, and ‘rich’ – along with the ‘lowly’ and ‘hungry’. Her child one will change the course of her nation.
I wonder if her final reference to ‘Abraham’ is particularly significant for the unfolding story Luke is beginning to tell. The great patriarch lived before the Mosaic law, was a descendent – not of Israel – but of the Chaldeans, was blessed by the gentile, Melchizedek, and celebrated by Paul for his ‘faith’ that was counted as ‘righteousness’.
A connection between Jew and gentile.
The implications Mary so clearly sees are significant for the reader of the Gospel of Luke. This song – and its context – forms something of a precursor for the dominant themes in this telling of the Gospel story: The Holy Spirit. God’s blessing and concern for the poor. The welcoming of the nations into God’s plans.
The vision of the incarnation of God leaves plenty to sing about!
What aspect of the gospel story most inspires you to worship and song?
How do you see the themes of the Holy Spirit, the poor, and the nations unfolding in Luke’s story? How do these most often play out in your life and faith?