|The Visitation by Mariotto Albertinelli|
I was introduced to this picture by a friend who is an artist and photographer. She had in her studio a version of this picture worked in pastels by her sister, also an artist. I use it every year in my Advent displays. It depicts the story in Luke 1 v 39 – 45.
It is a little known story; we tend to jump from the story of the angel Gabriel visiting Mary, to Mary’s song - The Magnificat – and then to the birth of Jesus; maybe putting in the birth of John the Baptist on the way.
But the story of the visit of Mary to Elizabeth is important particularly in the season of Advent. Advent is a time of waiting and expectation and nowhere in the story of Christmas is that portrayed with so much humanity as in this story of two pregnant women waiting for the birth of their babies.
Luke tells us Mary went off in haste to see Elizabeth. She packed her bags and ran away from the awkward situation in Nazareth; the gossip in the village; the bewildered but concerned parents; the overprotection of Joseph trying to understand it all. She ran to Elizabeth; she would understand, had not the angel virtually told her to go? Mary was clutching at a straw to get help and she was not disappointed.
Look at the picture; the care expressed by the older woman – Elizabeth – greeting the younger woman – Mary – sensing her fear, her vulnerability, her longing for support. There is the firm handshake that says “You are safe here”; the arm drawing her into a compassionate embrace. Look at the face, the smile that says welcome. Mary may have wanted to come, may have been urged by Joseph and her family to go, but now she has come there is the hand of the younger woman on her heart expressing her uncertainty and her longing to know it was alright to be here; will she be believed; will her story be accepted; will she be helped.
Luke goes on to tell us of the encouragement Elizabeth gives to Mary; of the confidence she instils as she confirms that both of them are caught up in the ways of God; that neither pregnancy is an accident, but is the work of God. These few verses represent weeks of conversation, we are told Mary stayed about three months probably until the birth of John the Baptist. When she leaves the months ahead will not be easy for Mary and it is Elizabeth who reinforces in Mary the foundation of quiet confidence and trust in God that we see in her during the life of Jesus. They were soul mates that God brought together at a time of waiting as a preparation for the years ahead.
Thinking of God’s preparations for the coming of Jesus, I wrote a reflection on Elizabeth and Mary for the Advent display in Hawkshead Hill Chapel.
Elizabeth and Mary
Are they blessed these women?
Chosen to bear life; to grow life;
chosen to carry a burden.
Does God understand the burden as well as the blessing:
understand what she is asking?
Creation made with such hope; given such blessings and
crowned with male and female made in her image;
has collapsed under greed; selfishness and self protection.
God sighs because people forget the responsibility to care for each other and for all God has made.
It is time to start again, not with a flood
But with two forgotten women;
One pitted in her old age for her barrenness
The other a slip of a girl, marriage arranged, family and village happy.
God sees them differently.
One is strong with years of wisdom and devotion to husband and God.
The other is growing in her understanding and commitment to God.
These women have not forgotten who made them,
who called them, who directs their paths.
Others may pity them; pass them by;
slot them into accepted patterns.
God knows them and chooses them
to carry the burden of a new beginning
and be blessed.