“Baby Shower for two”
As we near December and Christmas, all our attention turns to the story of the birth of Jesus. But how about his mother Mary? How about Mary’s pregnancy, and what did she do in those nine months before giving birth to Jesus? Around May that year, when Mary was 2 months pregnant with Jesus, she travelled some 150km from her home in Nazareth to a small town in Judea, to visit her relative Elizabeth who was 8 months pregnant of John the Baptists. This visit of Mary to Elizabeth is called the “Visitation” and is told in the Bible in the chapter that’s the Gospel of Luke (1:39-56). The Visitation took place on May 31st and Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months, during which Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist, on June 24th.
Elizabeth and her husband Zacharias were both very old and without children. Miraculously Elizabeth suddenly got pregnant, which was predicted to Zacharias by the angel Gabriel. Zacharias could hardly believe this, as his wife was too old to get a baby. Here is a similarity with the message Maria got from the same angel Gabriel: “Ave Maria, you will be pregnant and give birth to Jesus!” When Mary got pregnant, her fiancé Joseph could also hardly believe what had happened.
Mary knew well that her cousin Elizabeth had grieved for so many years on account of being childless. Mary travelled all the way to share Elizabeth’s joy and of course to help her in her household affairs and be with her during birth and in the months after the birth of the little John. It was a mission of charity.
Mary’s visit also brought divine grace to both Elizabeth and her unborn child, John the Baptist. Even though he was still in his mother’s womb, John became already aware of the presence of Jesus who was still in Mary’s womb. When Mary and Elizabeth met at the doorsteps of Zacharias’ house – the “Visitation” – Elizabeth spoke out with a loud voice and said to Mary: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” And Elizabeth said that as soon as she heard the voice of Mary’s greeting, her baby leaped in her womb for joy. At that moment the still to be born John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Since the Medieval era, Elizabeth’s greeting, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb,” has formed the second part of the “Ave Maria” or the “Hail Mary” song. The first part are the words the angel Gabriel said to Mary when he announced she will be pregnant of Jesus. One of the most famous composed music versions is Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria” from 1825. Listen to it via the link, with English and Latin lyrics provided in the clip and hereunder.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen. Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedíctus fructus ventris tui, Jesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.
In response to Elizabeth, Mary proclaims the famous words “My soul magnifies the Lord” in what is now called “Song of Mary” or “Magnificat”. Mary rejoices that she has the privilege of giving birth to Jesus. While Mary speaks to Elizabeth, she also turns a bit into a revolutionary as she continues looking forward to God transforming the world. “The proud will be brought low, and the humble will be lifted; the hungry will be fed, and the rich will go without.” In her answer to Elizabeth, Mary transforms herself from an obedient humble girl into an adult fighter for justice and protector of the poor. This “Magnificat” is nowadays banned in certain countries, as seen dangerous by the ruling oppressors. Johann Sebastian Bach put music to the words and created in 1723 his masterpiece “Magnificat”. Listen to it via the link, at least for the first few minutes. Lyrics in English and Latin hereunder.
My soul magnifies the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked with favor on His humble servant; from this day all generations will call me blessed. The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name, He has mercy on those who fear Him in every generation. He has shown the strength of his arm; He has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. Magnificat anima mea Dominum; Et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo, Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae; ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes. Quia fecit mihi magna qui potens est, et sanctum nomen ejus, Et misericordia ejus a progenie in progenies timentibus eum. Fecit potentiam in bracchio suo; Dispersit superbos mente cordis sui. Deposuit potentes de sede, et exaltavit humiles. Esurientes implevit bonis, et divites dimisit inanes.
Mary, through her meeting with Elizabeth, is no longer a silent participant of the Christmas story. She is a protector of the suppressed and a revolutionary, a fighter for a better world. Celebrating Christmas, is celebrating hope for a better world, for true justice to come.
And for the sake of completeness, here is the full text of the Bible story of The Visitation; Luke 1:39-56, in the new international version.
Mary Visits Elizabeth (39 - 45) At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” Mary’s Song (46 - 55) And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me — holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.” Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home. (56)