The Blessed Virgin Mary

(feast day 15th August)

 

“My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.” (Luke 1:47)

 

Few people will forget the scene in February 1990 when Nelson Mandela was released after twenty-seven years in prison on Robben Island. The hands of the crowd waving high in the air, happy faces in wild jubilation. Uncontrolled dancing, singing, simply jumping up and down. Or how about the scenes at the end of two world wars in 1918 and 1945? There was dancing in the streets around the statue of Eros in London’s Piccadilly Circus. This even included the usually reticent English people. There has to be something very special about an event for the people really to let themselves go like that. The usual expression of rejoicing is limited to handshaking or applauding but on rare occasions, like when we pass an important exam, the magnitude of the occasion breaks through.

 

When Mary, whose feast day is 15th August, first learnt that she was to be the mother of our Saviour, Jesus, she couldn’t possibly have understood the magnitude of the news. The people lived in difficult times. Their little country was under the rule of two great powers. On the one hand was the brutality of Herod the Great, and on the other, reinforcing Herod, was the threat of Rome. As a result Israel was kept in slavery. Yet people still had faith in a God who one day would act and bring an end to the tyranny in which they found themselves.

 

From early childhood, Mary and her cousin Elizabeth must have heard the scriptures telling them that one day there would be an end to the suffering of the nation. So many writings of the prophets told of days of hope, of victory, when God would come to their rescue. The great prophet Isaiah wrote (a few verses before our first reading, in Isaiah 61:6): “You shall be called priests of the Lord… you shall enjoy the wealth of nations, and in their riches you shall glory.”

 

Our reaction when something wonderful happens to us is that we want to share it. So when the angel Gabriel brought Mary the news that she had found favour with God and that she was to bear a son, Mary straight away hurried off to visit another mother-to-be, Elizabeth. She was soon to be the mother of John the Baptist. Together, the two women rejoiced. Hardly had Mary told her cousin the news than the unborn baby John caught the mood of the occasion and leapt in the womb of Elizabeth. In this, even before he was born, he was honouring Jesus.

 

Mary’s reaction was to sing out her feelings. The mighty will be put down from their seats, she sang. The humble and meek will be exalted, the hungry will be filled. She picked up words and phrases she must have heard for years as the two mothers-to-be shared their delight. She even repeated words from the song of Hannah to celebrate the birth of Samuel many years before (1 Samuel 2).

 

Later, much of Mary’s song would be echoed when the adult Jesus began his teaching. Then he would warn the rich not to put their trust in wealth and he would promise God’s kingdom to the poor. All that Mary had heard down the years was about to come to pass. In her song she sang about the many others who were about to find out that, for them, there would be no room at the inn of deliverance, unless they accepted God’s kingdom.

 

 

So Mary said “yes” to the angel and ultimately to God. Her “yes” is a free, responsible “yes”. Mary knows to whom and to what she is committing herself. She commits herself to bear, to nurse, to teach her child and bring him to manhood. Unlike us, she does not look back to the birth of Jesus at Christmas, but forward to the task of mothering the Lord.

 

In a strange way, whether we are men or women, we all carry Jesus Christ within ourselves. That is why we can all rejoice with Mary. We have the opportunity to show him to those whom we meet. Whenever we receive him in the holy sacrament we carry him out into the street. And ponder this. You’ll find in many icons of the Virgin and Child, Mary is shown pointing to Jesus. Look at her hands. She doesn’t want your thoughts and prayers for herself.

 

After the shepherds tell their story, Luke records: “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” But her pondering started before the birth of her son.

 

Rev’d Canon Stuart Ansell

 

The Blessed Virgin Mary

(Feast Day 15th August)

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