I love this contemporary statue of Mary in the ancient setting of Ely Cathedral’s Lady Chapel. I love the bright, pure colours of blue and gold, which are probably much closer to the original look than the current mellow stone. Most of all, I love her stance. It is open, powerful, ready to receive the extraordinary gift that was promised her. It is joyful – with a joy that acknowledges the reality of the difficulties to come, I feel.
Once again, this week, we have a powerful word – Joy – as our theme. Once again, we are aware that our immediate circumstances may not point to joy, but to sadness, or anxiety, or emptiness. Once again, we see examples in the stories of Christmas where people have faced great difficulty, as Mary must have done with her unexplained pregnancy. The consequences for her of saying “Yes” could have led to rejection, abandonment, or even death. She does not overlook the huge difficulty, but goes through it, beyond it, to the bigger move of God, the higher purpose her life is serving. She does this through her own choosing, her active acceptance, of the role the angel gives her. It is a radical, open, trust, which Wynne’s statue of Mary captures so well. She also does it through seeking out her cousin Elizabeth. With Elizabeth, also unexpectedly with child, she has someone who might be able to understand her strange predicament, and help her come to terms with what has been promised. The two women – one too young, the other too old, could nurture and support each other, both giving and receiving, as the time came for Elizabeth to give birth.
Here too is a route to joy – the presence of another. We are promised that God will not leave us, and we often find that another flesh and blood person embodies the love and care of God for us. It must have been so good for Mary and Elizabeth to share those three months together. Perhaps, we too can offer some companionship to each other – simply being present, simply listening, simply understanding.
Here is the story, from my book The Bible Retold
Among the fields and vineyards of Nazareth, in Galilee, lived a girl named Mary. She was soon to be married to Joseph, a carpenter, who could trace his family back to David, the shepherd king.
Then, one day, astonishing news burst into Mary’s quiet, hopeful life. The angel Gabriel came to her with a message.
“God is with you, Mary!” Mary gasped, and fell to her knees. “Don’t be afraid. God smiles on you!” The angel spoke the astounding words gently, lovingly. “You will have a son and name him Jesus. He will be called great – the Son of the Most High God! The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David, and his kingdom will never end!”
For a moment there was silence, as Gabriel’s words filled the air – and Mary’s mind. “But how can this be, as I am not yet married?” Mary asked.
“God’s Holy Spirit will enfold you. Your child will be holy. Even Elizabeth, from your own family, is going to have a child, despite her age! She is now in her sixth month. So you see, nothing is impossible with God!”
Mary raised her eyes to Gabriel’s face. “I am God’s servant. Let it be as you say.” And the angel let her alone, her mind spinning with the strange words.
Then Mary thought of Elizabeth. “The angel knew all about her – I must go to her.” She got ready, and set off quickly for Elizabeth’s home in Judea to the south, near Jerusalem.
As soon as she arrived at the house, she hurried to Elizabeth and took her hands. At the sound of Mary’s voice, the baby leaped inside Elizabeth, and the Holy Spirit filled her. She understood at once what had happened to Mary.
“You are blessed among all women, and blessed is your unborn child!” she said. “Why have I been so honoured? Why should the mother of my Lord God come to visit me?” Elizabeth laughed, and put Mary’s hand on her belly. “You see how my child leaps for joy at the sound of your voice?”
Then, Mary speaks out extraordinary words, which in turn echo the words of Hannah when she said goodbye to her long-awaited son, Samuel (I Samuel 2) You can read Mary’s words in my previous post here.
And so begins the journey of one called Lord God by Elizabeth into human flesh – not too pure and holy to found among frail humanity, not too great to be nurtured in the womb of a young woman, and born into uncertain poverty. One who set up home on this earth, and opened our eyes to see heaven here, even here.
We thank you for being born among us,
sharing with us what it is to be human.
we thank you for showing us a way to live,
full of grace and truth.
Light up our path, and let us walk with you.
From John 1
From Prayers and Verses
Please feel free to use my material, saying where it is from.