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
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
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
Rev’d Canon Stuart Ansell