Sermon Ideas For Luke 1:39-45 (46-55) Part 6
In Rainer Maria Rilke's poem, Mary's Visitation, the visit between John the Baptist's mother Elizabeth, and Mary, the mother of Jesus is retold. Mary's discomfort in her pregnancy presages the portentous nature of the approaching birth. In her meeting with Elizabeth, a certain solace is gained by the shared experience of two women intimately sharing an experience. The touch of their hands upon the other seals the bond.
The poem ends with a moment of joy that comes within the child Elizabeth is carrying.1
Through this momentous event, the spark of the future is felt. The long awaited savior receives his first response of faith. Even the unborn witnesses to the new thing God is doing. The comparison here might be found in the reply of Jesus to the Pharisees during his entry into Jerusalem when he is directed to silence the spontaneous joy of the crowd who greets him:
But Jesus answered, `I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.'2
When paintings treat a biblical scene by placing it in a contemporary context, it becomes a statement of faith. They are saying, "The spiritual meaning of that which happened long ago continues to have power to shape our world."
Rogier van der Weyden, a 15th Century Flemish painter relocates the visitation of Mary with Elizabeth at the foot of a hill beneath a great manor house surrounded by a stone wall enclosing a courtyard.3 The courtyard is empty, leading some to see that as a sign or Elizabeth's former barrenness.
Mary and Elizabeth, in the foreground greet each other on a walkway curling down the hill. The seams in Elizabeth's dress are split open to accommodate her pregnancy. As she places her hand on Mary's stomach, Elizabeth appears darkly solemn. A youthful Mary, draped in a dark blue robe, rests her hand on Elizabeth as she serenely looks ahead, perhaps pondering the road ahead in this life so deeply touched by divine destiny.
There is a lovely poem by Stephen Mitchell titled, The Annunciation.4 It chronicles the arrival of the angel delivering the announcement of the sacred birth to Mary. The poem dares to foreground the experience of the angel at the moment this angel comes into the presence of Mary. It describes what the angel at the moment of this first encounter.
The heightened level of intimacy is a shocking moment for the reader of the poem. This intimacy carries the suggestion of divine amazement at the presence of this human figure.
The angel pauses in the midst of a beautiful moment. There is a spiritual depth in this moment. The moment contains all the beauty of this thing done rightly, in God's time, in answer and fulfillment of human hope. Thus, it is a very human moment, those types of moments, fleeting though they be, occur when suddenly things just feel right. Perhaps the moments when we come to Christ in our hoping are like this. Suddenly we see the beauty that is right there in front of us, the beauty of God's creation and the placement of women and men in the center of God's world. The meaning of this passage points toward the human experience of joy, grounded in the knowing faith that God will set things right, working in the depths of our lives to bring about hope and reconciliation.
One last poem declares the nature of that hope. The poem is by Wislawa Szymborska is titled "Born of a Woman."5 It begins by describing Mary, the mother of Jesus as, "The boat in which years ago he floated to the shore. Out of which he struggled into the world, into non-eternity." This description connects Jesus to the boat and seaside scenes where so much of his teaching and ministry took place. The poem then goes on to describe Mary as,
The bearer of the man with whom I walk through fire.6
Living in time is the theological issue of this poem. We are creatures of time: hoping, waiting, regretting what has happened, wishing for the new. The joy of this experience of time is God's gift, one who walks with us through it.
1. David Curzon, ed., The Gospels in Our Image: An Anthology of Twentieth-Century Poetry Based on Biblical Texts, (New York: Harcourt Brace and Company,1995). 2. Luke 19:40 Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version. 3. Richard Muhlberg, ed., The Christmas Story Told Through Paintings, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1990).
4. Curzon, p. 10. 5. Curzon, p. 6. 6. Ibid.