Mary’s visit to Elizabeth is found only in Luke’s gospel. The passage begins after Gabriel’s announcement and Mary’s “yes” to God’s will and it concludes with Mary’s great canticle and her staying for three months with her cousin (Lk. 1:39-56).
Mary decides after the angel’s departure to set out to visit her cousin Elizabeth in the hills of Judah. Some scripture translations add “in haste” as the descriptive.
The decision is no light matter. The journey would have taken four days. A young girl (14 or 15 years old) walking alone would have been quite vulnerable. The journey certainly had risks and would have been a fearful thing to contemplate. But Mary’s decision to go brings out an important dynamic in the life of Christian faith.
Simply put, Mary makes the choice for hope and not for fear. Hope here is not naive, unrealistic optimism but rather a virtue given, a gift from God that is acted upon. Hope is the choice to trust in God’s promise and to live by God’s promise.
In many ways, I believe – as we come to Advent in the year 2007 – we live in a culture and a context ruled by (and manipulated by, I might add) the mechanics of fear. “Terrorists on the outside, “illegals” on the inside.” Mary’s choice for hope and not fear is a witness to us. It points out a different way.
(By the way, I hate the phrase “an illegal” that is being used to describe a whole grouping of people – a human being made in God’s image is never an “illegal”. Human dignity is determined not by any country’s mandate but by God-given inalienable rights that our own country’s Declaration of Independence speaks so movingly of. I think that the fear-mongers in the media and society who toss this term around need to re-read their own country’s founding documents.)
The mechanics of fear choke, stifle and ultimately kill off all life. The opposite of fear is not bravado and strength, rather it is hope. To choose hope is to step away from fear and to make the choice to trust in God. It is the choice to live by the vision of the Kingdom of God that is inaugurated by the coming of God’s own Son.
At the very beginning of the gospel – before all the disciples time and again do “not get it”, before the religious authorities misunderstand, before the political rulers fear – Mary understands what is beginning to unfold and she sings of it in her canticle.
At fifteen years of age, Mary setting out on a four day journey shows us a different way – the way of hope.