Preached at Emery House
When the angel Gabriel visits Mary to tell her that she will bear the son of God, we hear in Luke’s gospel that she was “much perplexed by his words” and asks “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”. Immediately after the Annunciation, Mary travels to visit Elizabeth, who also responds to this visitation with a question: not “how”, but “why” – “why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?”. “Why me?”
Elizabeth is the wife of a priest, so she’s probably used to important visitors and even divine visitations in the household – just not to her. Six months ago, her husband Zechariah was chosen to offer incense in the sanctuary of the temple in Jerusalem. As he was standing there, separated only by a veil from the presence of God in the Holy of Holies, he was visited by an angel, and he hasn’t been able to speak ever since.
I’ve spent a lot of time lately praying the mysteries of the Rosary and in particular the Joyful Mysteries. Many of you are probably familiar with praying with the Rosary but if you’re not, the Rosary is a series of meditations from scripture about Jesus (on themes of joy, sorrow, and glory) as seen from the vantage point of his mother Mary. After each meditation you say a series of repetitive prayers while you contemplate the particular mystery. As a point of interest you’ll note that the windows in the Lady Chapel are all scenes from each of the mysteries of the Rosary.
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.
I Samuel 2:1-10; Romans 12:9-16b; Luke 1:39-57
We have reason to celebrate tonight. This is a joyous occasion, a remembrance of a happy meeting between two expectant mothers who were to play important roles in God’s unfolding plan of salvation. It is an occasion of happy reunion, of babies leaping in the womb, of women filled with the Spirit proclaiming God’s greatness and shouting their thanks and praise. It is an occasion of rejoicing – not only in what is, but in what is to come. A time when faith proclaims what it has begun to see.
Luke prepares the scene by telling us what has happened to these two women. Elizabeth, he tells us, was a woman “getting on in years” who was barren. Her husband, Zechariah, belonging to a priestly order, was responsible for serving in the Temple from time to time. During his most recent service he had entered the sanctuary of the Lord and had there seen an angel who told him that the prayers that he and his wife had been offering for many years were now to be answered. They would have a son, whose name was to be John. “You will have joy and gladness,” said the angel, “and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.” And so it was. Elizabeth, long barren, conceived a child, just as the angel had foretold.
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy an angel was sent also to Mary, a young girl living in the Galilean town of Nazareth. To her the angel gave a similar yet even greater message: “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son… (and) he will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High… and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary was stupefied. “How can this be?” she asked, for she was not yet married. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you,” the angel responded, “therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God.” And as assurance that such an unlikely conception was well within the realm of God’s power, the angel told Mary of the remarkable pregnancy of her relative Elizabeth who had conceived even in her old age. “For nothing will be impossible with God.”