Sunday, December 16, 2018

The prelude to Christmas

The Virgin Mary and Elizabeth palpate each other's pregnant bellies on a hill. Engraving by C. Lasinio after Metalli after A. Dürer, Wikimedia Commons
Joyce Sasse - The prelude to Christmas starts with Mary, a young unmarried peasant girl, finding herself pregnant and scared.  Luke, the Gospel writer, gives background to the time leading up to the event that, to this day, celebrates Christ’s birth. (Luke 1:39 – 56) . Mary’s pregnancy was supposed to be a blessed event, he tells us, but she felt confused and alone. In her despair she remembered Elizabeth, an older relative known for her wisdom, and went to seek advice from her.

Imagine the scene. As Elizabeth opens her door and reaches out to hug her visitor she instinctively feels both her pain and her joy. “You are blessed among women” she whispers in Mary’s ear – and that validation helped lighten the burden.

Within a few minutes Mary tells her story, so far as she understood it. What a relief to hear encouragement and help as she tried to comprehend what was about to happen.

In due course, Mary was able to express her gratitude to Elizabeth by singing “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God … for God has looked upon the low estate of his handmaiden … for God, who is mighty, has done great things for me.”

When Mary realized that Elizabeth was also expecting, she stayed on with her. Her youthful, infectious spirit must have been a blessing to the older woman. As they tended the home-making chores and marketing together, we can imagine them sharing details about their developing pregnancies. Laughter and tears and questions about what their children would become made the days pass quickly. Both were trying to grapple with their changing their lives.

Eventually it was time for Mary to return to face her confused yet devoted fiancé. Elizabeth made suggestions about how Mary might encourage him and love him through the bad times they had yet to face.

Out of the rich sharing of sisterhood both women found enough strength to nurture a new generation.

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