Do we believe that it is with the lowly and humble of the world that God loves to visit and dwell? For the story of the Visitation poses some important questions. Whom are we listening to? Whose voice greets us with peace? Whom do we visit? Whom do we aid in time of distress and need? Who is most caught in the web of the world’s distrust, exclusion, and violence? [Refugees, Muslims, Indigenous Australians, homeless people?] And, most importantly, however small or lowly we may feel, do we believe that God can be born in us?
Luke certainly brings us specifically into the world of women. Indeed, the Visitation is a striking story. For as Elizabeth and Mary praise the one who liberates the oppressed, there is no male voice present. For once, it is silent. The story thus celebrates women, and mothers, who bring their creativity to change our world, and not by romanticising women’s roles or by limiting women’s identity to pregnancy, childbirth, and child raising. Elizabeth and Mary are part of leading change at home, and abroad: in the personal and the political; sharing in the salvation of all the world. So what others are we reminded of in this story? Elizabeth certainly reminds me of those women who mentor and support new mothers, including unwed mothers; who support abused women and their children, alcohol and drug addicted girls, orphaned and runaway children. She also reminds me of women like Aung San Suu Kyi, in Myanmar-Burma, who have helped transfomr their nation’s fortunes. Perhaps you can add to such women, women you know yourself? We should give thanks for them today. The Visitation also encourages us to value both the young, like Mary, and the old, like Elizabeth. Together, old and young can support one another, and need one another, to serve and strengthen others, bringing God to birth in us all. So, which older people, or younger people, do you want to give thanks for today?
*Secondly, today’s readings lead us to the Magnificat, to Mary’s magnificent call to hope and justice. For God’s choice of the insignificant ones in the world is a call to those who are in power, wealthy, or not-oppressed, to move to solidarity with the ‘victims’. God is saying that we are all brothers and sisters. Our true hope comes from being in solidarity. Mary’s Song thus celebrates one of the great reversals - the blessing of womanhood in a patriarchal society. It is a song of liberation that shakes the social and religious foundations of Mary's world and beyond. For the words of the Magnificat uses the language of the prophets, as God is ‘reminded’ of the option God has made for the lowly, the exiled, the people scattered by war and fear over the earth. The religious and political leaders of her day did not recall these promises, but Mary’s vision lives on In recent times, for example, where power and tyranny have attempted to destroy the spirits of people, poets, songwriters and artists have revived the dream by writing songs and poems of protest, freedom and hope – like Mary. These have had the imagination, love and passion, to dream dreams larger than the desperation of the moment, to imagine and live the great reversals of God's dream for all humankind…. and to risk looking the fool. Can we, as a worldwide Church, like Mary, share in doing the same?
The Magnificat's message is so potentially subversive that for a period during the 1980's the government of Guatemala actually banned its public recitation (a sanction that I'm sure the monasteries of that country violated daily). Similarly, during the 1980's the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, Poland, became such a potent symbol of resistance to the Communist regime that as many as 5 million people made an annual pilgrimage to the site. So, as we give thanks for the least among is, let us renew our commitment and call to hope and justice.
Thirdly, today’s Gospel story of the Visitation is also a wonderful encouragement to us to take courage ourselves, and, like Mary and Elizabeth, help bring God’s love into being. For, as we approach Christmas, Mary and Elizabeth remind us that love truly is a gift. Such a gift is often, and typically, given in the quiet and insignificant places of our lives, and as we meet with others, especially those considered to be the least. And it is given to each of us to give birth to in our own lives – however unlikely that might seem. So let us, like Elizabeth and Mary, give courage to one another.
Do you have a womb? Biologically speaking, I don’t. Yet do I have the capacity to bear God in myself? Of course. My wife, biologically speaking, also no longer has a womb. Yet dos she have the capacity to bear God in herself? Of course. Biologically speaking you may, or may not, have a womb, o have had a womb with life-giving capacity. Yet each of us has the capacity to bear God’s love in ourselves. This is the heart of the story of the Visitation. Like Mary and Elizabeth, whether we are young or old, full of hope or full of shame, weak or strong, naïve or broken by the world – and whether we are feminine or masculine, or someone making sense of both – we can share in bringing forth love from God’s infinite womb of creativity.
In Greek, one of the most important ancient names for Mary is theotokos, which means ‘god-bearer’. That is what we are all called to be, inspired by the great model of Mary: we are called to be theotokoi, god-bearers, love-bearers. Mary could have said ‘no’ and denied her calling and her capacity to love: denying what she truly was. Yet she did not. Mary and Elizabeth show us that bearing God – bringing to birth what we truly are – is a work of prayer, of courage, of grace. and of mutual support. Let us share in that work, that joy, that love: in the Name of the One who was born among the least, who continue to help us magnify God and share God’s love with all: in Jesus’ Name. Amen.
by Jon Inkpin, for Advent 4 Year C, 20 December 2015