In the prophetic tradition, hope often follows prophecies of doom and judgment. In such hope, the prophet speaks to the pained longing of Jews exiled in Babylon. From the small clan of Judah, the prophet says, shall come forth a king whose origin is of old, from ancient days. Israel is given up, cast away in exile, until the “time when she is in labor” (Micah 5:3). She, the holy nation, will bring forth a ruler who will stand and feed his flock on safe and peaceful pastures. All roads will lead the Jews to this sacred center. “Then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.”
Cant. 3 or Cant. 15 or Ps 80:1-7
Heb. 10:5-10 • Luke 1:39-45 (46-55)
The people who return, however, have learned the long hard lesson of being God’s elect without access to a temple and without the familiar comfort of sacred soil. It has been suggested, although without convincing evidence, that synagogue worship was conceived in the Babylonian exile. Even if the theory is not explicitly true, Jews in Babylon found ways to pass on faith through epic storytelling, interpretation, and communal prayer. They had no other choice. The returning exiles now knew, notwithstanding their longing for a holy land and a sacred temple, that a Jew could be a Jew anywhere. This too was a praeparatio evangelica.
Now the King of Peace has come, shrouded under the cover of his mother’s womb. He is the beginning and the end, the center of all human history. The gravitational pull is irresistible. “I will draw all things to myself” (John 12:32). And yet he has no fixed location; he rides in the womb of a woman. He is a carried presence. Indeed, in Luke’s story of the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, Jesus is the hidden-wordless secret, and yet an emanating presence. When Elizabeth, who is pregnant with John the Baptist, hears Mary’s greeting, she feels John leap in her womb, she is filled with the Holy Spirit. She blesses Mary for her faith and her role in being “the mother of my Lord.” Mary then offers her famed Magnificat, praising God for the favor shown to her. “His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown the strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thought of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:50-53).
The gospel is pouring out of these beautiful women and Jesus is not yet born. But his effusive presence is there, in Mary, in her womb and in her voice, in John’s movement, in Elizabeth being filled with the Holy Spirit.
Mary is the temple of her Son. She is the Christ-carrier and the Christ-bearer. She is a monstrance on the road to the house of Zachariah. In her a forming baby consents: “Whither thou goest, I will go, and where thou lodgest, I will lodge” (Ruth 1:16). He who is the center of all things consents to be carried down the street and to distant lands. “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Look It Up
Read Luke 1:39-55. Not one word from Jesus, and yet John and Mary and Elizabeth are exuberant.
Think About It
“God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Cor. 3:17). It’s time for a long walk. And what happens when you meet your brother or sister, neighbor or stranger, mother or father?