Sermon Ideas For Luke 1:39-45 (46-55) Part 3
Reportedly, one of the most joyful times of "waiting" is the nine-month period of a woman's pregnancy. This anticipatory time of preparation and meditation on the birth of a child is also a sojourn in human creativity. It is a special duration and interpretation of time of waiting for the epiphany of a new life--which is known and experienced differently by men than by women. The current rash of studies on human creativity debate the now-classic theory that the great creative persons--artists, thinkers, scientists, philosophers, writers--have all been men because the human male can't gestate or birth a child. Commensurately, women who have fulfilled their "creativity" in the pregnancy and birth of a child have no interest or inclination "to create" great works of art, literature, philosophy, or science.
The scriptural event identified as the Visitation signifies a moment of rejoicing between two women in recognition of their respective and joyful expectations of the birth of a child, and of the one woman's awareness of the unique child being borne by the other. Initially part of the narrative cycle of the life of Jesus Christ, the Visitation became an independent topic in Christian art and spirituality in the fourteenth century due to the growing interest in and devotion to the Virgin Mary as witnessed by the writings of Saint Bonaventure. Traditionally in Christian art, the iconography of the Visitation has concentrated on the visualization of the embracing (read as celebratory and joyful) gestures of the two pregnant women--Elizabeth, soon to be the mother of John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary soon to be the mother of Jesus of Nazareth. Most often captured in a posture of "mid-embrace," the figures of Elizabeth and the Virgin Mary are reminiscent of the byzantine and medieval images of the angels engaged in a circle dance either in Paradise or before God's throne.
The key to the early church's interpretation of dance as a form of celebration and adoration was its understanding of the human body. The Aramaic words for "dance" and "rejoice" are the same word. Therefore, when Jesus spoke of "rejoicing in the spirit" he could have meant "dancing in the spirit." Following varied scriptural and patristic exhortations on the body as a channel for religious expression, the indigenous practices of dance as an element of spiritual involvement in prayer and in liturgy entered into early Christianity. Of particular interest was the so-called "dance of the angels" before the throne of God as a bodily expression of joy and spirituality, and the "dance of the blessed" as they entered into Paradise accompanied by the angels. In this fusion of body and spirit in religious motion, the early and later the medieval Christian had a visual model for the meaning of the Incarnation--that sacred mystery of the fusion of humanity and divinity in Jesus Christ.
The circle dance of early and medieval Christian liturgies which was paralleled in Christian art by representations of the "dance of the angels" or "dance of the blessed" was premised symbolically upon the never-ending or beginning nature of the circle. Those embraced within the circle thereby are in a spiritual state of no-beginning, no-ending, rather of eternal time. Such a state of "time" would be clearly distinct from our normal sense of "time" such as precisely fifteen minutes to complete a project or that indistinct "just a minute" of everyday conversation. Rather this religio-aesthetic moment of eternal time would be similar to that fuzzy recognition of no time and no place common in the experiences of artists engaged by the creative process or mystics encountered by the Holy. Thus this posture of circular motion and embrace between Elizabeth and the Virgin Mary has scriptural and religious interpretations--it is more than a sign of greeting or affection between cousins. It is also a symbol of celebration, spiritual ecstasy, of fusion of body and spirit, and of a different recognition of "time."
This visual symbol of the celebratory postures of the body was echoed in a singular fashion in the High Middle Ages when Christian artists depicted either the infant John leaping for joy in his mother's womb or the two infants, Jesus and John, in joyful postures of greeting which often paralleled the postures of their mothers. Although banned by the Council of Trent, such imagery of the two infants leaping in their mother's wombs was not meant to be "read" or "interpreted" literally but was rather a visualization of the meaning of the scriptural passage about the "expectant waiting" of Elizabeth and Mary.