And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by her Lord (Luke 1:45)
One of the exhibitions which is presently on at The British Library, London is entitled “Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens”. In the introduction it entices us by saying “step back into a dangerous world of plots, espionage and treachery to explore the turbulent relationship between Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots in their own words”. Although they never met, their fates were intertwined.
In our gospel reading we have two women, also named Elizabeth and Mary. Unlike Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, their lives could not have been more different.
Luke records that Elizabeth is a member of the priestly house of Aaron, and therefore appropriately married to Zechariah, also of a priestly family. She is a relative of Mary, although the exact relationship is not spelled out.
The Bible gives us very little biography for Mary. She is a “young girl” newly betrothed to Joseph when the visit of the angel turns her world upside down.
As we discover, Zechariah and Elizabeth had not been able to have children, until in old age Gabriel announced the promise of the birth of a son who would become John the Baptist. Elizabeth appears to be more trusting than her husband giving thanks for the quiet work of God’s grace. Gabriel then reveals Elizabeth’s pregnancy to Mary as a sign that God’s promises are to be trusted and will be fulfilled. Did you notice that Mary went in haste to visit Elizabeth when she heard this unexpected news?
In his recent book “An Advent Book of Days”, Gregory Cameron, Bishop of St Asaph, Wales, writes that “the story of the obvious love and compassion between these two women may cause us to think of the rewards of links in our wider families, but it also reminds us that great comfort and strength can be derived from finding fellowship with those who are walking the same path in life – whether joyful or sorrowful. There is a sense in which God does not wish to leave us abandoned and lonely in the story of our lives, and we can look for, and be ready to offer, hospitality with those who share our experiences”.
The theme in the early chapters of Luke’s Gospel is that God is faithful and keeps his promises – to Zechariah, to Elizabeth, to Mary, to the people of Israel themselves. These stories of faithfulness reinforce one another: as God has been faithful in providing for one, so he will provide for the other.
In Advent, Mary and Elizabeth greet each other and invite us to take comfort in their hope and their witness to God, the life-giver, who has come to be with the humble and meek.
As we celebrate the Visitation and Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s greeting in the unexpected and gracious words of the Magnificat, may our hearts be filled with praise for God’s faithfulness.
And as we approach Christmas this year with its various uncertainties and challenges, may we too take delight in those words spoken by Mary “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my saviour”.
Lord God, who enabled Elizabeth and Mary to recognise in one another the work of your faithfulness, give us companions in our journey through life, who may encourage us, and whom we may encourage, for in the giving and receiving of life, friendship and mercy there are reflections of your own goodness.