Lectionary Reflection: The Fourth Sunday of Advent

By Jim Simpson

Sunday, December 23

Are you larger than life? You are, you know, it is only a matter of seeing it. In Advent the shadows fall away; we are illustrated to ourselves.

Today’s gospel reading from Luke depicts the meeting between Mary and Elizabeth known as the Visitation. It is one of the most vivid scenes in the New Testament, the source of the Magnificat and the Ave Maria prayer, and an inspiration for such artistic masterpieces as the joyfully mysterious Visitation of the Virgin and Saint Elizabeth by the 16th century Italian painter Jacopo Pontormo, which is reproduced on the cover of today’s wrapper. The painting was recently restored and will be on display at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles next year.

The Visitation shows Mary and Elizabeth as fully realized individuals yet not entirely of this world. They are so close we could touch them; the street in the background suddenly falls away. The handmaidens standing behind them are Mary and Elizabeth’s former selves, the ordinary people they used to be, before they were sanctified by the light that pours down over Mary’s left shoulder saturating their extravagant costumes in dazzling color. Two figures are invisible under Mary and Elizabeth’s robes, poised and coiled, signaling to one another of things to come. As they embrace, Mary and Elizabeth’s expressions signal their self-awareness, resolve, and inner grace.

Do you feel something quickening in you as we approach Bethlehem, something waiting to be born? It could be a new understanding, a firm resolution, or a fresh opportunity. There are several members of the congregation for whom it is a child. Whatever it is, may it enlarge your life.

 

 

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