A reflection on the Gospel, Luke 1:39-56, for Advent 4C by The Rev. Crystal Karr
One of my favorite things to do is to look for art, especially paintings that were inspired by the scripture we read each week. The paintings draw me deeper into the story. Each artist emphasizes and illustrates something different from the next. For example, some artists have dressed Mary in rich and luxurious fabrics like velvet, while others dress her in rag-like clothes. Some have the angel, Gabriel, larger than life floating above her with Mary cowering in fear. Others have Gabriel bowing before Mary to honor her with the news. Each picture enriches the story of the Annunciation, gives more depth and food for thought.
Often what appears to be a "little thing" might give us a new perspective into the scripture, give additional meaning. Until recently, it was normal for artists to paint Jesus and stories from scripture into their own modern context---think of all the elaborately decorated dresses and costumes Mary has been robed in throughout the years--historical accuracy was not a concern. This allows the story to be real for us--to break into our world and open our eyes and heart to where God is moving in the present. Sometimes we zero in on a particular rendition or image and begin to idolize that image--forgetting that it is just that, one artist's idea. But if we examine many images it can enrich our understandings of the scripture and help us to grow in faith.
As I've looked for pictures of this week's gospel reading, of Mary and Elizabeth meeting, the pictures I've seen show 2 women greeting one another, sometimes with rounded bellies, each filled by a little boy. Yet, they sort of look the same--perhaps it's the family resemblance. Their differences are not striking nor profound--a slight difference in age but not too much.
Yet, when I picture Elizabeth in my mind, I see a woman with grayed hair, tired from the weight of the child, tired from taking care of her ailing mother and father, tired from reading and playing with neighborhood children that could, should have been her grandchildren and yet she is just beginning her journey into motherhood.
Mary, she's young, her face pleads innocence and confusion, and joy, through it all is joy. She has just the beginning of a baby bump, hardly noticable unless you already know she's pregnant. She could be the nursery helper, assisting her aunt Elizabeth on Sunday mornings.
These are two women who have no business bearing children, let alone children that are special not only to their mothers but to the world, to us 2000 years into the future and beyond.
As they meet there are no wayward glances, no scanning of one another's bodies looking for a note of shame, downcast eyes, that recognizes the aberration of their bellies--each filled with an infant son. No, instead there is joy, excitement, and anticipation for the birth of their special babies. They are at home with one another.
Can you imagine the chatter? Have you felt the hiccups yet? Oh, John kicks all the time--I think he might be a great soccer player! Then laughter! The laughter they must have shared--laughter over the disbelief, Zechariah's muteness; tears over the lack of understanding, the lack of belief, the looks, the small cruelties inflicted as they walk down the street. Joy over being together, finding sanctuary in one another sensing that "yes, this IS absolutely real!"
It is no wonder that Mary would then break into song! Have you ever had one of those moments? Have you ever just burst into song because you were overwhelmed by something--good or bad? When the girls were younger we'd make up silly songs for everything and there were (and still are) those moments in which life feels like a part of a movie and you could easily be convinced that someone is recording it? The only thing missing is the background music to cue you in on what will happen next.
Mary's song, her Magnificat, begins by praising God and moves to proclaiming the promises that her son will make come true. Her song is much like Hannah's, it's the classic Biblical reversal of fortunes--the hungry are fed while the previously well fed go without, the poor are elevated while he rich are humbled, the world is flipped upside down.
Good news for some but for most of us in this sanctuary it's sort of scary, at the very least a bit intimidating! But this is what happens, what has been promised by the Most Divine, the Holy One when God becomes man, becomes flesh and bone. When the glorious day arrives and Christ returns for a permanent transformation of all of Creation, the world will be made right--which likely means that our values and priorities will be set straight, that all peoples on the earth will be well fed and have what they need.
No longer will we be driven by fear of war to stockpile weapons of mass destruction. No longer will we feel be driven by greed to stockpile stuff. No longer will we attempt to fill the emptiness--the void that we foolishly attempt to fill with food, alcohol, drugs, money, and stuff. All of our additions and greed will fall away, shatter into dust because God will be with us upon the earth, peace will fill our lives. Real peace, peace that is more than freedom from fighting, the peace that which only God can give will envelope and transform us from the inside out. We will be free from the fears and false idols that distract us from loving our neighbors and loving God with all that we are. God will live among the people, finally, at last, all will be well and joy will stir our hearts evermore.
This is the joy I see in Mary and Elizabeth's greeting. This is the joy that I pray you and I, we will awaken to this Christmas and this is the joy that I hope and pray that we will courageously bring into our world with each day that is gifted to us. We too are asked to make room for Jesus, we too are asked to give birth to Christ, to raise Christ up so that all may see and recognize the bit of Christ, that image of God that lives within each and every one of us. May that living image of Christ be born in us, so that when we greet one another--we too can experience a joy-filled exchange of love and recognize the Christ in one another. Amen? Amen.