by Rev. Fr. Johney George
"Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth." (Lk. 1:39);
"And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house." ( Lk. 1:56)
During the Advent Season we read and meditate upon the events related to the birth of Jesus. Here is the story of the visit of Mary to Elizabeth. St. Luke begins the story with the statement of how Mary began the journey. And, he concludes how she ended the visit. There are many good messages here.
What does it mean to say "in those days?"
Two things are there.
First, the work of the Holy Spirit was very evident. Humanly speaking, the impossible had happened. Elizabeth who was very old and had no hope of bearing a child had conceived by the power of God. Mary who was only betrothed to Joseph conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. According to the Jewish tradition, a boy and a girl who were known as husband and wife after the betrothal or engagement, were not allowed to have marital relationship before the marriage properly took place. And, if the girl became pregnant during this period, she could be stoned to death for adultery, according to the Mosaic Law. Humanly speaking, nobody would dare to face such a situation.
Secondly, both Mary and Elizabeth were facing very difficult situation in their own personal lives. Mary conceived during the period when sexual relationship was not allowed; and, Elizabeth conceived at an old age. Both the experiences were, in those days, that of shame.
How did Mary react? The usual tendency would be like that of withdrawing oneself from all social relationships. That was actually what Elizabeth did. She hid herself for five months. In the case of Mary she did just the opposite. She 'arose' and 'hasted' to go to the hill country of Judah to meet another person who had the same experience!
The word 'arose' is very important. One of the best messages in the Bible is "Arise and build." Jesus said to the paralytic, 'Arise'. Mary was told that she would conceive the Son of the Highest who would reign over the kingdom of David which would have no end. She was told that Elizabeth was also bearing 'a son'. Mary was to become the mother of the Messiah; and, Elizabeth, the mother of His 'forerunner.' The Mother of God went to meet Elizabeth, the mother of the forerunner of the Messiah.
When St. Paul speaks about the Incarnation, he says, " ..Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men." (Phil.2:6,7)
Positions are given to serve. Many people are not able to internalize the meaning of positions which they hold. Because of that they externalize too much the post they hold. They are not able to rise above the 'post' or 'chair'. Quite often this happens in the Church and church organizations which should actually internalize and show the spiritual basis of posts or positions.
'Went with haste' means that there was a determined effort on the part of Mary to go to Judea. People take things so easily and leisurely that there is no determination whatsoever to change our pattern of behavior. Because of TV and other media, people are set to a pattern of idleness. Christian way is just the opposite. It is a way of determination which encourages us to meet people, share our experiences, to love and to be loved, to sacrifice personal interests etc. We are so trapped in a situation that prevents us to open our hearts to other people, to have fellowship and relax. The result is that many face psychological and psychiatric problems. And many turn to drugs and other ways of life to get rid of stress and strain and seek counseling centers for help.
One of the interesting things here is that Mary was able to offer greetings to Elizabeth. She offered peace to the house that she entered as it was the custom of the Jewish people. The fact that there were problems in her life did not prevent her from offering peace to another person! We lack this attitude today as we are becoming more and more self-centered.
Mary went and stayed with Elizabeth for three months. What were they doing during these three months? Surely, they prayed together, cooked and ate together, shared their fears and anxieties, helping each other to understand God's ways even though their age and experience were entirely different. But, they consoled and tried to help each other to bear the burden. Is it not a typical example of Christian way?
If one is not able to rise above one's own petty self-interests, he/she won't be able to bear witness to the real message of Christmas. There is a famous story by O Henry. It is about a young couple - Jim and Della. During a Christmas season they wanted to give presents to each other without the other knowing about it. Jim decided to give a beautiful set of combs for Della's long and curly hair which he liked very much. Della thought of presenting a golden chain for his watch which he had inherited from his father and treasured greatly. But, there was a big problem. As they were very poor, where could they find the resources? Jim sold the watch and bought the combs; Della sold her long hair to a beauty parlor to buy the chain. Jim hid his hand in the pocket and presented the combs to Della; and she gave the chain to him with her head covered with a scarf. When they came to know what they had done for each other, they wept and hugged. Each one had given the best to the other!
St. John says, "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that every one who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life." God loved the world to the point that He gave to the world His only begotten Son in whom He was "well pleased."
Mother Teresa once said, "People today are hungry for love. That is why we are able to go to countries like England and America and Australia where there is no hunger for bread. But, there people are suffering from terrible loneliness, terrible despair, terrible hatred, feeling unwanted, feeling helpless and feeling hopeless. True love hurts. It always has to hurt. It must be painful to love someone. You might have to die for them. When people marry they have to give up everything to love each other."
We speak many nice things during Christmas season - peace, justice etc. We send beautiful and costly Christmas cards to friends and relatives. We give presents. We arrange beautiful Carol Services and Christmas parties. But, the real question is, is there a 'hurting love'? Do we lose or sacrifice something for the other? How much the inner heart involves in those activities?
Wishing a Happy Christmas and New Year.
About the Author:
Rev. Fr. Johney George is the Program Coordinator, Program to Combat Substance Abuse, Christian Medical Association of India.
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