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The Gospel of Luke is one of the four Biblical tellings of the life, teaching and mission of Jesus of Nazareth. Luke writes with a mastery of Greek that other writers don’t share, indicating that he was highly educated and spoke Greek well. He takes pains to explain what Jewish traditions and cultural pieces mean to non-Jewish readers (called Gentiles or “Greeks” in Bible-talk).
We’ve already encountered the two women at the center of today’s reading in the larger story of the birth of Jesus, as told by Luke. Elizabeth is Mary’s aunt. She’s married to the priest Zechariah who had an encounter with God in the Temple. (Luke 1:5-25) God gives him a vision specifically that he and Elizabeth their old infertile post-menopausal age, would finally have a child. He disbelieves and doubts God. And so he’s silenced – rendered mute when he should have simply listened rather than insisting on talking. Elizabeth is traumatized. In their society fertility was idolized as crucial for women and used as a cultural measure of their individual worth. Married to an important man (a priest), yet childless and old, she would have been invisible and silent in society. It’s striking that we encounter her, here in today’s reading it’s her speaking with a loud voice. That which was invisible and silent is seen and heard front and center.
Mary’s song of gratitude and faith echoes one of another woman in the Hebrew Scriptures who prayed for God’s help in her infertility. Hannah becomes the mother of the great priest Samuel: a story told in 1 Samuel 1 and 2. Her prayer of gratitude to God when she finally becomes pregnant after years of shame is strikingly similar to the song sung by Mary in todays reading. Compare in particular Luke 1:50-53 and 1 Samuel 2:4-8. Hannah was invisible to everyone except her husband because of her barrenness. Most likely she was traumatized by the view by others of her as broken, incomplete, less than whole because of her infertility. She too, although societally invisible, makes God’s movement in the world visible. Her story seems to be on the mind of Mary as she prayerfully sings to God.
Questions for Reflection & Examen:
• What engaged you, enraged you, or surprised you in the text?
• Today’s scripture points to the consistently mysterious way in which God acts in the world differently than we would. Those that are invisible, often not noticed, and speakers for God – whereas the usual leaders, the ones we assume to “know things” Zechariah are unable to understand what God is up to. Where else in scripture do you encounter stories in which God’s invisible hand in the world is made visible in ways that challenge and reverse our expectations?
• You might call this the first Christmas song. What does Mary sing of in her confession of faith? How does it speak to you?
• What invitation do you hear the Spirit of God speaking to you – or to us, as a church – to act, speak, be or change through this word of scripture?
Download a study sheet PDF of the text HERE.