Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

I decided to share one more chapter- this one is the Visitation. Enjoy!

4. She Entered the Home of Zechariah and Greeted Elizabeth

If Joseph wished Mary to go to Judea, then they would go, but Anna did not intend to let her daughter out of her sight for an instant. She could not dispel her fears that Mary had been deceived and violated by some messenger from Elizabeth out there in the open fields and was now in a state of denial or delusion. Mary would not have been able to call for help: the law would protect her from stoning. It would protect her from shame. Joseph clearly was no ordinary man; he had accepted a vow of virginity. Still, he was a man of honor; how could he give his name to an illegitimate child? It had to have been a dream. There would be answers with Elizabeth; everything hinged on Elizabeth. Anna no longer accepted that her niece, hardly six years her junior, could possibly be with child. If Elizabeth was not pregnant, then she did not send a messenger, and Mary would have to admit it was all a dream. They could have a good laugh, go up to Jerusalem together to celebrate Passover and move on. Deep down, Anna knew that there would be no laughter.

During the long journey to the hill country, neither mother nor daughter spoke about what was most on their hearts and in their minds . Mary had decided not even to speak of it to Elizabeth and Zechariah. She was going to Ein Kerem to share their joy and to offer assistance to one who had been like a second mother to her. It was not necessary to speak of herself. She would keep the king’s secret.

Anna chatted amiably with the other woman in the caravan, but in her thoughts she was constantly repeating that all this was only a dream. Although she intended to be sensitive, the constant repetition of this idea made her uncommonly stern toward her daughter. Anna would not allow Mary to be spared even the least hardship of the road as she would have gone to excess to do if she really believed her daughter to be carrying the King of Israel in her womb.

Mary knew her mother well. So she was not entirely unhappy with the mistreatment. She was more than fit to walk and work, and she did not relish in the least the attention that Anna’s misguided doting would attract, especially with the other Mary in the caravan. All the same, while Mary recognized the maternal concern in Anna’s severity, she grieved painfully at her mother’s hardness of heart. Not infrequent were the moments in which Mary asked God to deliver her parents from their fears in order that they too might rejoice in the fulfillment of His promises. She hoped that they would stop focusing on her and see that there was something here so much greater than any of them. God was in their midst.

It was not that Mary did not take her parent’s concerns very seriously. She herself had been troubled when the angel first appeared and spoke such lofty greetings. She had questioned if it were possible some deceiving spirit had come to lead her into folly. She was not unaware that many of her family and friends had great expectations for her. The temptation to vanity and conceit were very real. As she grew in her understanding of the vow she had made as a little girl, Mary had come to realize that by her vow she had surrendered the possibility of bearing the Messiah and with it all of the honor. Well aware of her own weaknesses, daily she would beg the Almighty to keep her in his ways and away from sin.

Then Gabriel had said, Do not be afraid, Mary. Never had Mary known such tranquility of spirit as she had in obeying those words, and despite the ups and downs of the days following it had not left her. Demons sow discord and strife; this deep quiet could not come from any but God. The glory of the Lord had shone around her just as it had surrounded the Ark of the Covenant long ago in the days of Moses. She could not doubt. She did redouble her prayers to run in the way of God’s commandments:

Be kind to your servant that I may live,

that I may keep your word.

Mary had imagined herself to be very little before, in the new light of God’s unfathomable gift she knew herself to be as nothing at all. She prayed:

My soul clings to the dust;

give me life in accord with your word.

Mary was nothing more than the handmaid of the Lord. In order to serve Him, she would gladly accept from his hand all that came, be it pleasing or painful.

The journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem took four days. Anna and Mary spent a pleasant night in Simon’s house in the upper city, but early the next morning a small party set out for Ein Kerem under the leadership of Alphaeus, who had taken to heart the charge to escort his wife’s kin. Between the young man and the shepherd Joab, Anna and Mary could not have been better protected, as Anna took every opportunity to point out. The other Mary, who had been thrilled to have her new relations in the traveling party and had hardly left her sister-in-law two minutes of silence, protested vehemently upon learning that they meant to continue immediately to Ein Kerem. But Mary and Anna both desired haste. The other Mary then directed her protests against her husband for leaving her behind in Jerusalem, but Alphaeus was just as inflexible. He intended to go as escort and return well before sunset; he did not want his wife and her baby to slow him down.

The sun was shining high in the clear blue sky as the travelers reached their destination. They had made good time, nonetheless Alphaeus was eager to start back. He halted in the main square, just inside the gates, to bid farewell to the women. Anna lingered to see him off and to supervise as the two men unloaded the donkey. Mary did not wait. After taking her leave, she bounded along the familiar lanes and through the entrance of her cousin’s house, hardly a hundred yards from where her mother and the baggage-laden shepherd could still be seen waving as their faithful guide set off for Jerusalem.

The house of Zechariah the priest was fairly large, built around a spacious courtyard onto which nearly a dozen doors opened. Though she had been away many years, Mary was received joyfully by the servants who hurried out at her request to assist Anna and Joab. Left alone in the courtyard, Mary gazed about for a moment delighting in happy memories of childhood.

“Elizabeth!” It was more a cry of joy escaping from her heart than a call. “Peace! It is Mary, I’ve come to you.”

Before Mary had taken ten steps toward the door, Elizabeth, round with child, her face alight, appeared in its frame. Most blessed are you among women, she exclaimed loudly, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. As Elizabeth approached, she looked over her vibrant but road-weary visitor. Her jubilation gave way to amazement and awe: And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? Mary’s only response was to embrace Elizabeth warmly. Tears streamed from her eyes at this unexpected greeting. Elizabeth, her own eyes beaming, wiped Mary’s tears and said, For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.

Since the apparition of the angel, a hymn had been welling up in Mary’s heart. At last, it burst into exultant song:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;

my spirit rejoices in God my savior.

For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;

behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.

The Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

His mercy is from age to age

to those who fear him.

He has shown might with his arm,

dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.

He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones

but lifted up the lowly.

The hungry he has filled with good things;

the rich he has sent away empty.

He has helped Israel his servant,

remembering his mercy,

according to his promise to our fathers,

to Abraham and to his descendants forever.

Elizabeth’s outcry had been heard even in the square, striking Anna with wonder and dismay. She hurried toward the house and was almost to the gate when Mary began to sing. Her daughter’s voice rang out under the bright springtime sun full and melodious, as it had never sounded before. Mary’s whole heart was in the song. It was impossible not to be moved. Anna stopped short. As she stood captivated, the import of the words impressed themselves upon her heart. God, the Almighty, had truly come to them in his mercy. A jumble of emotions jostled within Anna: hope, joy, maternal pride, dignity, gratitude, wonder, fear of the Lord and profound sorrow for her severity and disbelief. But even these latter only increased her heart’s exultation in the Lord.

The song had stopped; everything became quiet around and within Anna. A sudden pressing need to see Elizabeth impelled her into the courtyard. From the doorway, she could see the pair talking quietly together some way off. Their backs were turned toward her. Anna stood frozen. First Mary turned, then Elizabeth. In an instant Anna saw what she realized she had really wanted to see all along: Elizabeth was unmistakably pregnant, in her sixth month at least.

Anna did not hear their joyful greetings as they came close. She took a few halting steps to meet them, then fell at her daughter’s feet saying, “forgive me, my Lady.”

Startled, Mary quickly picked up her mother and embraced her compassionately. Held in the tender embrace of Mary, Anna’s spirit soared. A weight had been lifted from her heart; she began to laugh. And for a long moment, nothing more was said as they all laughed and hugged and praised God from the depths of their hearts.

At length Anna confessed, “I do not really understand any of this. Indeed, I know now that God has remembered his people, but I still cannot get over my astonishment. Do tell me, dear Elizabeth, how all this came to pass. Has it anything to do with the strange rumors we heard about your husband last year?”

“Yes, I imagine so. Actually, I have been in seclusion these last five months in the hopes of avoiding further rumors,” Elizabeth answered, “But truly the works of God are not to be kept secret.” And placing her hands over her womb she said, So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others.

“But come inside now, here are the servants with your man. They will attend to everything. You must refresh yourselves from the journey, and I will tell you what I can. I am still rather amazed myself.”

At the door to the main room, Elizabeth stopped. She clasped Anna’s hand and said, “How glad I am that you have come! Old as I am, it is still a comfort to have you who are so like my dear mother here with me at this moment. You resemble her so much. It makes me feel like I am a young bride again full of hope. How mother would have wanted to be here in this unlooked for hour of my joy!” Anna put her arm around Elizabeth. She was touched beyond words by the compliment as well as at the recollection of her late sister, Ismerion. They went inside.

The courtyard had not been as empty as it seemed when Mary arrived. A silent figure sat under the shade of a fig tree pondering great mysteries and awaiting the fulfillment of a prophecy. After witnessing the entire encounter, he rose and followed the women into the house without a word. Still unnoticed, he sat down in his usual place.

***My footnotes did not copy over as I am using a new word processor. So as to post this in a timely manner, I will simply point out that all the italic text is the words of Scripture taken from the New American Bible, Luke chapter 1 or Psalm 119.

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