39 Soon afterwards Mary got ready and hurried off to a town in the hill country of Judea.
40 She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth.
41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby moved within her. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit
42 and said in a loud voice, “You are the most blessed of all women, and blessed is the child you will bear!
43 Why should this great thing happen to me, that my Lord’s mother comes to visit me?
44 For as soon as I heard your greeting, the baby within me jumped with gladness.”
Other readings: Micah 5:1-4; Psalm 80:1-2, 14-15, 17-18; Hebrews 10:5-10
With the angel Gabriel’s amazing news of her cousin Elizabeth’s unexpected pregnancy (Luke 1:36) it didn’t take Mary long to pack and set off for a visit. Now she had incredible news of her own.
The full significance of many of God’s announcements and actions can be slow to dawn on the individuals involved. Abraham’s wife, Sarah, laughed when she was told she would become a mother in old age (Genesis 18:12). Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband, doubted and was struck dumb throughout Elizabeth’s pregnancy (Luke 1:20). Whatever her own doubts and anxieties, Mary simply accepted what God wanted, saying: “I am the Lord’s servant, may it happen to me as you said” (Luke 1:38).
A shouted greeting announced Mary’s arrival to Elizabeth, and caused a surprising thing to happen: Elizabeth’s baby leapt in the womb. She was probably accustomed to the baby moving by now. The surprising thing was that the Holy Spirit caused the movement. And Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, “recognises” and proclaims Mary as the mother of the Lord and blesses her in this role. This short passage is often referred to as the Visitation.
Not only is Mary visiting Elizabeth, but Jesus is making his first visit to “his people”. John, still hidden within Elizabeth’s womb, recognises Jesus as the Messiah and leaps for pure joy.
What a precious encounter it must have been for the two expectant mothers and the babies they carried. Such an encouragement to each of them. Mary’s faith must have had a tremendous boost. As she blesses Mary, Elizabeth echoes the Angel Gabriel’s words to Mary (Luke 1:28, 30-33).
Consider how Mary might have felt before and after her visit to see her cousin Elizabeth. On the one hand, there was Elizabeth’s wonderful news after a lifetime of childlessness. But what would Elizabeth, wife of the priest Zechariah, make of Mary’s news? Would she believe her or would she shun her?
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth speaks out and confirms Mary as the mother of the long-awaited Messiah. How might Mary have felt about these words? The verses following today’s reading give a big clue (Luke 1:46-56).
Consider the Holy Spirit’s role in guiding Elizabeth and Mary. Have you experienced the Holy Spirit guiding you? What do you remember of these events?
Psalm 80 is a heartfelt plea for God to restore the nation of Israel. Join the psalmist and cry out to the faithful Shepherd (God) to rescue the people you know who do not follow him.
Ask God to turn the hardened hearts of people in your country towards him. Sometimes our own hearts can do with a little softening in some areas too. God has promised to give us hearts of flesh to replace our hearts of stone (Ezekiel 11:19).
Ask God to help you recognise the leading of the Holy Spirit and for the faith and courage to obey his prompting.
God is often described as a shepherd. Contemplate the ways God shepherds you personally, and then how he shepherds whole nations when they allow him to do so.
Meditate on the title given to Jesus – Prince of Peace.
Micah’s prophecy was given about 700 years before Jesus’s birth. He was not the only one to prophesy Jesus’s birth. Jeremiah announced it too around 150 years later. We read this in the Sunday readings three weeks ago (Jeremiah 33:14-16). Reflect on Micah’s prophecy. What does it signify for you?
Lectio divina is an ancient tradition of reading and engaging with God’s Word. These outlines for the Sunday Gospel readings are published by the Bible Society