I was moved to write my response to a Bible study I attended. While my Christianity is nontraditional, it is my religious background. I attended seminary in my 40’s to try and understand Christianity at a deeper level. I love the Bible and its great stories. I am grateful for a space to share my reflections.
In Luke 1:26-38, the birth of Jesus is foretold. Gabriel is God’s angel and holy messenger; his words are addressed to Mary. As a result of God’s special favor, Mary will conceive and bear a son, Jesus, who will rule over the house of Jacob forever. Mary is confused because she is a virgin, but Gabriel reassures her. Her child will be the son of God. Mary, barely old enough to bear a child, bravely answers, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” This scripture is celebrated every Christmas season. It has inspired great music and art throughout Christian history. At 72, I have heard or read this passage many many times. It has been the heart of many Christmas sermons and meditations. This year I heard it anew.
In a group Bible study, we followed the traditional Benedictine practice of Lectio Divina, Latin for Divine Reading. The practice invites participants to take part in a process that creates the possibility to increase communion with God. There is an opportunity to go beyond understanding to a deeply personal experience of the scripture as the living word. It offers a fresh look at something that familiarity can sometimes hide.
The scripture is read four times with time for meditation between the readings. It is a process that calls for a shift. Rather than think about the reading, the participants listen from the heart. It is a shift from using intellect to using intuition and imagination. It is a letting go so something new can be born. In many ways, the practice of Lectio Divina parallels true participation in the Christmas story itself.
I can’t remember what came to me as I listened and meditated during the first three readings of Luke 1:26-38. After the fourth reading my imagination was captured by Elizabeth. God’s miracle in her life had never stood out for me before. It was lost in Mary’s miracle. I think, because of my age, It struck me that Elizabeth was as brave as Mary. Barren and long past child bearing years, she was willing to say “yes” to new life. This took a loving heart and deep faith. Children are a lifetime responsibility, and her life was nearing its end. I imagined her full of disbelief, questions, and fears for herself and the child she would bear, She trusted. She led the way for Mary just as her son, John, led the way for Jesus. When Elizabeth found out she was pregnant, her faith empowered her to rejoice saying, “The Lord has done this for me,”
Thinking about my own life, I realize how I have often given myself over to the idea that it’s time for those younger and healthier than I am to take the lead in the struggle for justice. The young are optimistic, energetic, understand new ways of communicating, are bright and have fresh new ideas. It is too late for me. Elizabeth’s story made me think anew about how all the characters in the Christmas story are essential. In every moment, God is present offering each of us a part in God’s story. Miracles are not offered to some over others. It is not the circumstances of our lives, but rather our “Yes” that is at the center of God’s work on Earth. Love and justice require a host of diverse voices answering God by saying “Yes, here I am.”