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December 21 - Elizabeth brought to faith

Friday, December 21, 2007
Readings: Song of Songs 2:8-14 (or Zephaniah 3:14-18a); Psalm 33; Luke 1:39-45

The ministry of Jesus is to open eyes so that they might see, open ears that they might hear, and loose tongues that they might speak. He attends, as one of our hymns puts it, to 'poor human bodies, howsoever stricken'. His ministry is all about faith and the relationship of human beings with God. But it is also therefore all about human bodies since how else are we to live out a 'spiritual' life if not physically?

The visitation of Mary to Elizabeth is about 'ears' and 'tongues' - and the small matter of a baby leaping in his mother's womb. Mary speaks and Elizabeth hears, believes, and in her turn, proclaims. The visitation is a short event that nevertheless encapsulates the preaching and hearing of the gospel. The word is spoken - Mary has carried the word across the hill country of Judea to her cousin. Elizabeth hears and believes - 'the sound of your greeting reached my ears' seems unnecessarily ornate but thereby draws attention to itself: the word reaching the ear. She proclaimed with a loud proclamation - again it seems unnecessarily ornate: she shouted with a great shout is one way of translating it: the word reaching the heart. The kicking of John the Baptist in his mother's womb is as nothing compared with her shriek of faith!

Elizabeth thus comes to believe in the moment in which she praises Mary's faith. The Spirit works through physical events - an encounter, words spoken and heard, a leaping baby - to establish faith in Elizabeth. Her canticle - blessed are you among women ... who am I that the mother of my Lord ... blessed are you that believed - seems closely related to that of another woman we meet later in Luke's gospel. In Luke 11 we hear of a woman crying out to Jesus, 'happy the womb that bore you and the breasts you sucked' to which Jesus replies 'happy rather those who hear the Word of God and keep it'. He doesn't say to her 'would you mind being a bit less explicit in front of the children'. Instead he says 'blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and practise it' - exactly what Elizabeth says to Mary: 'blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled'.


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