On November 23rd I introduced the season of Advent (questioning Christmas) the start of the church year and a time for preparing our hearts and minds for the celebration of Jesus birth. As a change from the traditional advent themes (hope, peace, joy, love) I have selected the traditional Carmelite themes of waiting, accepting, journeying and birthing (as suggested here) for a series of Advent reflections. This week I (and hopefully you will join me) reflect on journeying, inspired by Luke 1:39-45
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth 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. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’
The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America
When my husband and I bought a bracken MG B with chrome bumpers, the journey we took in it was all about the car. As we drove we learnt how to drive it (without power steering), we got to know it's foibles and unsophisticated ways as we drove to Napier, (and of course there was a little bit of pretending to be Richard Hammond). The journey was all about enjoying the car, it was about appreciating ending style. In contrast the journey’s we made on the legendary Route 66 and the windswept Great Ocean Road have been all about the road. They were about the scenery and the corners and straights and enjoying the broad sweep of the road (and pretending to be Richard Hammond). At other times we have gone to visit with good friends, those journeys have been all about warmth and encouragement. The focus of those journeys was on connecting and gaining better insights into the location and life of our friends. The biggest journey I have undertaken was for my OE, and that was about establishing my independence and learning to set out on my own. Most of these physical journeys have been towards things that have drawn me on, but I am also aware of those journeys (away from jobs, away from churches) that are more about what I was leaving, than about where I was journeying to or how I was journeying. Those journeys have been primarily about escaping whats behind rather than moving towards what is ahead.
This week we find Mary somewhat impetuously hurrying off on a journey to visit Elizabeth, in the Judean foothills (outside of Jerusalem). Luke shows us a different side to Mary, who calmly took the angels news in her stride in the previous section. In fact from now on in Luke whenever we come across Mary she is journeying, to Bethlehem, to Egypt, to Jerusalem. It seems as if in contrast to her early years that would have been relatively still and secluded, God reveals himself and his plans to her and she is now always active and on the move. Luke is very good at drawing us into the action, inviting us to witness the events he has recorded, but there are so many unanswered questions. All he leaves us are hooks that lead us to speculation.
As I speculate I can't help but wonder, Mary as you traveled in haste to see Elizabeth were you running away?
The haste with which she hurries off makes me wonder, was she running away from telling her family that she was pregnant? Was she escaping from the possible rejection of the community that was all she had known? Running from religious leaders who would have been quite sure that angels didn't bother visiting young girls. Was she escaping from being told how God works? Was she running away from the things that were getting in the way of her belief, that would cause her to doubt her call and place in God's work. Running from people who wouldn't recognise the unexpected work of God in her life, and in the world.
Mary left her past and journeyed towards the new thing that God was doing in the world.
Perhaps all these things were driving Mary away and perhaps there was an escape motivation in her journey. Nevertheless her choice to journey pushed her forward deeply into the new unexpected work of God. Again Luke abandons us to speculation, we don't know how Mary made this journey of between 120 and 160 km. We don't know how well she knew Elizabeth or why Mary chose to visit her. Perhaps she wanted confirmation of what Gabriel had told her, perhaps she thought if Elizabeth and Zechariah had also been visited by an angel that they would understand her predicament.
We do know what sort of welcome Mary received, and this can give us a few insights into Elizabeth. Elizabeth was open and able to hear from and be filled with the Holy Spirit. This enabled her to understand the spiritual significance of events (the child leaping in her womb). She welcomes Mary with kindness and warmth. From the manner in which Elizabeth greeted Mary, we understand that she was humble enough to put aside her culturally higher status (older, wife of a priest) to acknowledge Mary's higher status in God's activity. Elizabeth was able to confirm, acknowledge and support all that God had revealed to Mary. Elizabeth was able to re-ignite Mary's confidence in God's call. I like to think that Elizabeth was able to advocate for Mary with Mary's family, helping her reveal to them all that was happening and that God was doing. Elizabeth cared for and comforted Mary in the early stages of her pregnancy (helped her cope with pregnancy nausea perhaps?), and perhaps Mary was able to comfort and care for Elizabeth as the time of John’s birth came near.
Together Mary and Elizabeth are able to help each other recognise all the fresh ways that God was at work in their own lives and the world, together they are drawn to journey forward into the unexpected, miraculous revelation of God.
As Luke prods us to explore more of the mysterious future of our own faith and of the people of God, we can ponder these questions. Are we running away from institutions that get in the way of our belief?
Do we know what we are running towards?
Do we have warm and open companions for our journey?
For those of us traveling a little further ahead in the journey, do we stop and look back and think of how we can be the warm companions to those struggling to come along?