1 Sam. 2:1-10; Lk. 1:39-57
On the surface of it this story from the Gospel narrative of the events around Jesus’ birth might seem like a small event. We are not given very much detail, not even the name of the town in which Zechariah and Elizabeth lived, only that it was in the hill country of Judea. We are not told how Mary travelled, nor exactly why, only that she went in haste, which may have meant that she went eagerly when she learned of the pregnancy of Elizabeth; and she stayed there for about three months.
An early Christian tradition identified with the home of Elizabeth and Zechariah as being in ‘Ain Karim, about 8 kilometers west of Jerusalem. The present highway from Jerusalem goes a considerable distance downhill from Jerusalem, and the town is located in a valley between forested slopes. When I was one of the chaplains to one of the St. George’s College courses about 5 years ago we spent a pleasant morning there, with visits both to the shrine of the “Magnificat” and to the Church of St. John the Baptist.
I could not find any details of the location or the roads from Biblical times, but I think it may have been possible to go directly from Nazareth, Mary’s home, to Ain Karim without passing through Jerusalem; from the hill country of Nazareth to that of Judea.
The events at the beginning of this visit of Mary to Elizabeth give to us two things which are regularly part of our devotional life in our own times. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting we are told that the child leaped in her womb, and she was filled with the Holy Spirit, and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” (Lk 1:42) This we say daily through most of the year here and in most other Religious Houses, as part of the Angelus. When Elizabeth said, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (v. 45) she acknowledged both her own pregnancy and that of Mary, as being blessed by God
As we know Mary responded to this in the words that we know as The Magnificat, giving praise to God and acknowledging his favor with words that we repeat regularly in our own worship of God.
The “Song of Hannah” read as our first reading has a similar flavor for the praise of God given under similar circumstances, but it is acknowledged that the Magnificat is unique in its balanced praise acknowledging the goodness of those who are humble, and the chastisement of those who are proud and those who misuse the gifts of God when they misuse the power that they had.
As Mary did, so we in our prayer and worship also honor the promises of God given to our spiritual ancestor Abraham and his descendants forever.
- My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
- my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
- for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
- From this day all generations will call me blessed:
- the Almighty has done great things for me,
- and holy is his Name.
- He has mercy on those who fear him
- in every generation.
- He has shown the strength of his arm,
- he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
- He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
- and has lifted up the lowly.
- He has filled the hungry with good things,
- and the rich he has sent away empty.
- He has come to the help of his servant Israel
- for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
- the promise he made to our fathers,
- to Abraham and his children for ever.
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