Close this search box.

The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth

By the Rev. Simon Li

Luke 1:39-57            

Since the start of the pandemic, our Parish of St. John Willowdale has had, similar to many parishes, quite a number of deaths, which is sad.  Also in the last five years, we have celebrated quite a number of births.  I have counted ten.  So on the first Sunday in many months, we prayed for the expectant mother and her child in the womb, and gave thanks when the baby arrived.  On the same Sunday, we would also pray for couples desiring to have children.

Pregnancy is a mystery.  Last week, a young couple sat in front of me and poured their hearts out about all their efforts to have a child without positive result, and their fear for infertility.  The young man cried in desperation and frustration that, even though they have always been so good with kids and kids just love them, they cannot have a child of their own to love, while many other people have babies, even though they may not want to, or may be ill-prepared to parent, and when so many children die from wars around the world.  That surely feels unfair.

Elizabeth in our Gospel story today must have also felt unfair, indeed humiliated, for not being able to bear a child with the priest Zechariah.  The suffering of Hannah, the character in our Old Testament reading, must have been ringing painfully true to her for many years.

Yet the reading today is about the special visit of Mary, pregnant with Jesus from the Holy Spirit, to her relative Elizabeth, mother-to-be of John the Baptist.  I do not know of another biblical passage about two expectant mothers talking to each other.  Mary and Elizabeth must have so much to talk about!

Out of their sharing, with experiences that are very different, and yet have so much in common, come our beloved canticle, the Magnificat – magnifying, praising and putting first the God who helps, protects and raises the humble, poor and powerless, and who is always faithful to us.           

The child in the mother’s womb is a mystery.  Psalm 139 helps us to meditate, in awe, the beginning of our life:

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Let me continue reading from The Message translation:

I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
    you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
    how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
    all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
    before I’d even lived one day.

Your thoughts—how rare, how beautiful!

Nine years ago, before walking the Camino in Spain, I had the opportunity to do a short retreat at Taize, France.  Their chapel was beautiful, calming as well as uplifting.  One of the walls had several small stained-glass windows, each no more than a square foot.  The one that caught my eyes is about the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. Let us now take a moment to ponder this scene.

On the left is Elizabeth carrying John; on the right Mary, carrying Jesus.  Who is welcoming whom? 

John is in a kneeling posture, worshipping Jesus.  We all know John’s call in the desert is for repentance.  Out of his own keen sense of sinfulness, he lives an ascetic life in the desert, thundering out his fiery message of warning, for people to face their own real sin. 

How does Jesus respond to this trembling worshipper, coming in fear and trepidation?

Jesus cannot be more childlike.  His eyes looking at John are wide open, like having discovered a new treasure, so valuable that Jesus cannot help but smile.

Jesus is moving towards John, with open arms.  Like the father of the Prodigal Son, who did not stand still but ran towards his returning son.

In his book What’s So Amazing About Grace?, Philip Yancey quotes Kierkegaard to say: Jesus’ parables were not merely stories or teaching tools.  They were in fact the template for Jesus’ own life on earth.

The colours and hues of this window are so rich and warm, just right to help us immerse ourselves in God’s deep love for us. 

In a moment, let us come forward to worship this Jesus, who has given his body and blood for us in love, and is ever welcoming us into his presence and embrace.

Thanks be to God!