A Reason for Joyful Celebration

Stained glass - the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth

This week we might take some part in the Queen’s Platinum celebrations.  But what is true celebration?

Just before this, on Tuesday’s feast day of the Visitation, the scene gives us a clear picture of celebration. The young Mary visited the elderly Elizabeth and both were with child. This was a good reason to celebrate because of the joy motherhood would bring.  But there was a greater reason. God blessed these women and they were humbled by that blessing. It was not Mary who honoured the older Elizabeth and marvelled at the miracle of her pregnancy. No, it was older who honoured the younger and was in awe at the work of God in their midst.  The elderly Elizabeth had the prophet of the Messiah in her womb, while the younger Mary was pregnant with the Christ himself.

Luke painted the scene of greeting as an opportunity for prophecy by Elizabeth who declared the blessing of Mary (using words partially reflected in the Hail Mary). Mary was blessed because of her maternity and God’s favour. She derived her status because of her faith and because of the importance of her son. (In a male dominated, gender segregated society, women derived their status based upon the social and economic importance of males in their lives: fathers, husbands and sons.)

Mary would respond to Elizabeth’s blessing with a prayer of praise for her new status with what is now known as “The Magnificat”, a song of joy. God had decided to use a lowly handmaiden to fulfil His will. His activity in Mary’s life was a reason for praise and was seen as an act of divine power. This line of reasoning paralleled Luke”s view of the crucifixion. Jesus died a shameful death in the eyes of his contemporaries, yet, in the eyes of the faithful, His lowly death was a mighty act of God. After all, just as the pain of childbirth gives way to the joy of new life, so the death pangs of Jesus gave way to the glory of the resurrection. The pregnancy of Mary was the first step in God’s immediate plan for salvation.

What would that pregnancy mean to Israel? Mary’s song listed two results: a sign of the faithfulness to the people and justice. God would change (even invert) the world order. The rich and powerful would be humbled. And the poor would be exalted. How? Through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. His life would mark the beginning of the end time, when divine justice would reign and God would bless even the forgotten among the people. In the end, God would keep his promises.

So, Mary had reason for joy. Her status was not based upon local opinion, but upon her place in God’s plan. She was the first to accept the Good News at the Annunciation. Now she was an instrument of God’s will and power. For that reason, her reputation would spread from generation to generation. She would be the mother of the Saviour. And, the Mother of God!

The feast of the Visitation is a reason for joyful celebration. God blessed even in the lowest of society and His blessing would bring life to everyone, high or low, who believed.

How might that thought humble us this week and focus our hearts on His love?  How might we then cause that love to spill out to others in whatever we do in the national celebrations?