Advent 4: Year C

Visitation Elizabeth to MaryPregnancy and Promise

  • Micah 5:2-5a
  • Psalm 80:1-7
  • Hebrews 10:5-10
  • Luke 1:39-45 (46-55)

“Advent is the waiting season, hoping to be rediscovered. She is seasoned waiting, wishing wisdom and pregnant with promised life. She is a season conceived each day.” Joseph J. Juknialis (When God Began in the Middle, Resource Publications Inc., 1982).

Mary and Elizabeth testify to one another the fulfillment of God’s promises. Upon meeting Mary, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps, and Elizabeth spontaneously cries out. Luke describes her response as the outward expression of the movement of the Holy Spirit within her. As a result, she identifies Mary as the mother of her Lord (1 Corinthians 12:3), thus confirming the words of Gabriel (Luke 1:35). Elizabeth also describes her own experience as one of joy, thus anticipating the joy that will come to others because of Jesus.

Most significantly, however, Elizabeth points to Mary as the model of faith. Twice Elizabeth calls Mary “blessed,” for Mary has believed the word that has been spoken to her from God. Mary responds to Elizabeth’s delight with a hymn commonly known as “The Magnificat” (from the first word in its Latin translation). Also called “The Song of Mary,” this hymn of praise parallels Hannah’s prayer of thanksgiving (1 Samuel 2:1-10) and recalls the hymn of deliverance sung by the people of God at the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1-18).

In the first part of the song, Mary gives voice to her own experience of God’s grace. Written in the first person, these verses focus on God’s actions toward Mary. For Mary, the deliverance of the lowly – not literally acted out in her life – is God’s “name” (Philippians 2:5-11). The second part of her song points to the universal implications of Mary’s experience. As God has acted toward Mary, exalting her lowliness, so too will God act toward others in the birth of Jesus. God’s deliverance brings hope and salvation to the people of God (Isaiah 61:1-3), fulfilling God’s covenant with Israel (Genesis 12:1-3).

Jann Cather Weaver writes, “On the Representation of Mary and Elizabeth” (United Church Press, 1994):

The expected births of both Mary and Elizabeth were ambiguous and troublesome. Both women understood their pregnancies as a time of question – rejection – and doubt. After the scorn of barrenness, Elizabeth remained secluded for five months; after the scorn of unexpected pregnancy, Mary stood to lose her legal and social rights as Joseph considered ending his betrothal to her. Mary and Elizabeth were women living in a time when, not unlike aspects of today, religion had become fossilized, seeking to control society rather than transform society. They, however, sought to live radically faithful lives in response to the call from their God. Not unexpectedly, these women lived lives like those of their soon-to-be-born sons. Do we think John and Jesus just “knew” how to live radically faithful lives? how to be preachers? how to be as eloquent as the Magnificat? how to be healers? John and Jesus knew how to live radically faithful lives because they were sons of two women who had faithfully faced a terrifying yet expectant reality.

The Magnificat is often said or sung at Evening Prayer (BCP p. ) or as an option in place of the psalm during several weeks of Advent. The radical nature of Mary’s song can be heard in “the poor shall be raised up and the powerful will be brought down.” Just as his mother, Christ calls for radical change in our individual lives and in society. His call is part of the Christmas proclamation and is the reason for the penitential tone of Advent.

The words of the Christmas story are so familiar and so filled with nostalgic memories that we can easily forget their power to call our lives into question.

For reflection:

  • Read 1 Samuel 2:1-10 and compare Mary’s song to Hannah’s prayer of thanksgiving. What emotions and attitudes are common to both hymns? What do these songs teach you about God’s values? God’s ways?
  • How would you describe Mary and her influence on the traditions of the Church? How is she a model for you personally?
  • What kind of world is described in The Magnificat?
  • When have you experienced the “lowliness” of Mary? How has God responded?
  • In the world today, where can you see God exalting the humble, scattering the proud, and sending the rich away empty?

Image: The Visitation Mariotto Albertinelli, 1503

About Sharon Ely Pearson

Wife, mom, grandmother; author, educator, consultant; trying to make a difference one action at a time. Christian formation has been my vocation for 40+ years - and counting!
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