Preparing for Worship – John Kelly, pastoral resident.
“And Mary remained with [Elizabeth] about three months and then returned to her home” (Luke 1:56 NRSV).
At this point in Luke’s Gospel, not even two chapters into the action, so much has already unfolded that needs some chewing on. By the time we read of Mary’s three-month stay, we’ve encountered angelic visitations, a couple of miraculous pregnancies, an instance of embryonic exaltation and a prophetic song of overflowing praise (i.e., the Magnificat, our communal Advent focus this year). No wonder Mary took a few months! I’m sure she needed the time and space to process the divine chaos unfolding around her.
I like to imagine Mary’s conversations with Elizabeth over these few months: full of divine hope but tinged with well-warranted anxiety, focused just as much on dreams about the future as attempting to make sense of the present moment. I bet Mary was relieved to have someone like Elizabeth to support her. Also, though, I imagine Mary spent a lot of time alone in silence, pondering the millions of questions that had to have filled her mind; meditating on the hope she was quite literally gestating. I picture her praying in her room, keeping one eye open — half-expecting Gabriel to circle back with some follow-up details.
Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t exactly relate to Mary’s experience. I’ve never been a teenage girl, nor have I factored into a scenario involving any sort of immaculate conception. Still, like I bet all of us can, I undoubtedly relate to the “when it rains, it pours” pace of Mary’s story — especially, funnily enough, when the holiday season rolls around. I doubt I’m the only one who relates to wanting some clarifying information from God; to needing both the support of community and time for silent, contemplative solitude.
Saying it’s been a big year would be a multifaceted understatement. Many, if not all of us, have found ourselves living in the uncertain tension between future hopes and present reality. We all carry a mix of divine hope and well-warranted anxieties. And that’s okay. From what we know of Mary’s story, it seems like we’re in great company!
As we prepare for a time of worship together, though, maybe we could glean as much direction from Mary as we do encouragement. We could commit to pondering the ultimate source of our hope, peace, joy and love in intentional contemplation — even if that looks more like a no-radio ride home than a three-month visit to your cousin’s place. We could decide to support those close to us, regardless of if we fully comprehend the future into which God has called them. We could ultimately expect Christ to be born, as it were, in our very midst.