from shame to blessing with haste – a reflection on Luke 1:39-55

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Advent / Gospels / Lectionary / Year C

The following is a reflection on Luke 1:39-55, the Gospel lesson for the fourth Sunday in Advent in year C, according to the Revised Standard Lectionary.

Mary and Child

“Enthroned Virgin and Child” from Burgundy, France. Ca. 1130. At The Cloisters, NYC. Photo by Rick Morley.

…Mary set out and went with haste…

But, why?

Raymond Brown (in The Birth of the Messiah, page 331) says “Mary’s haste is a reflection of her obedience to the plan revealed to her by the angel, a plan which included the pregnancy of Elizabeth.”

I typically defer to Fr. Brown in almost every case…but I do disagree with him on this one.

Mary is a young girl, perhaps 12 or 13 years of age, and she is pregnant. She is not yet married, and so there was no legitimate reason for her to be with child.

Well, at least no legitimate reason that anyone else would buy.

In our day this might be a small scandal. In her day it would have been earth shattering.
Two-thousand years of reading this story has set it in lead-bound stained-glass. We forget that these characters aren’t running around in luxurious patterned silks sporting halos. Mary is a real girl—a real little girl.

And her pregnancy would be a disappointment to everyone in her hometown. Most of all, her parents, her betrothed, her rabbi…everyone.

So, if I were her…I’d want to get out of dodge too.

I’d probably even want to do it with haste.

And where might she go? To her cool cousin Elizabeth.

When she enters Elizabeth’s house she doesn’t find judgment or doom-and-gloom.

She is met with joy.

Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!

What it must have meant for Mary to have heard those words. Like cool water on a hot day. Like a soft stool after being on your feet for hours.

After feeling shame—after feeling like a disappointment to all who were around her…she was declared to be a blessing. As was the child in her.

There’s a lot going on here, but what strikes me is that we need more Elizabeths in the world. We need more people willing to move past judgement and shaming, and offer God’s blessing.

We need people who look upon the world and see God’s redeeming hand at work, not just see the worst in other people and ourselves.

And we need to feel that call to bless deep within ourselves, like a child leaping within us.
For, if there were more Elizabeths in the world doing that holy work, there just might be more people breaking out into holy song like little Mary.

The Author

follower of Jesus, father of two, husband of one, Episcopal priest, with one book down, one blog up...surrounded by empty jars of nutella