‘WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?’ (Lk 1:39-45): 21 December 2007 (Friday)
What’s wrong with this picture? One glance at this scene of the Visitation, and we’ll probably say, “Nothing!” After hearing the angel’s news, Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth to offer her help. Mary is herself pregnant, but out of generosity and concern for Elizabeth, she leaves home to stay with her cousin until the latter’s childbirth. Elizabeth rushing out to welcome Mary makes a touching stampita scene, as composed here by filmmaker Franco Zefferelli in his 1977 six-hour mini-series, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
But when you think about it, there’s something not quite right about the picture. Just imagine the scene: Two pregnant women meet. One is a virgin, the other barren. One is too young to be a mother; the other too old. One has not even begun to dream of bearing a child; the other’s dream has long died. But here they are, both very much pregnant, and each is caught by surprise by her own as well as the other’s pregnancy. How can the Visitation not begin with both women staring at each other in awe, the world around them swimming in their tears?
Elizabeth tells Mary, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” She refers to Mary’s faith in the angel’s words about Mary’s own surprising motherhood, but also about the news of Elizabeth’s equally unexpected pregnancy. Indeed this calls for a double celebration, and the joyful scene appropriately segues to a song-and-dance number: The baby John the Baptist dances in the formerly-barren womb of Elizabeth. And Mary breaks into song, that magnificent Magnificat, a pregnant virgin’s song, a song itself pregnant with meaning.
What’s wrong with this picture is that it is too good to be true, thanks to the surprising lavishness of a God who “does great things for us.” It speaks of a God who likes to give gifts beyond our imagining. For this reason, one of the messages of Christmas is that nothing is too good to be true. Or as the angel told Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God.”
I think this Christmas the Visitation is intended especially for the cynics among us and the skeptics within us. To those of us who have understandably given up on miracles and have stopped believing in the impossible, to those among us who have become wiser and more “realistic” in our expectations, God’s message this Christmas is: “Not so fast! It ain’t over till the pregnant lady sings.”
(image: from Franco Zefferelli’s “Jesus of Nazareth”)