I have altered the icon from the original, not intentionally though. In the original icon – on Elizabeth’s left arm that embraces Mary there is a red sleeve. I did not notice this in the original image I copied from and left the sleeve out. Now Elizabeth’s arm is bare – the sleeve pushed up. I like this though. We “roll up” our sleeves when we are busy, when we have work to do. I can imagine Elizabeth busy about the work of the day when Mary arrives. Immediately this work is left behind as Elizabeth embraces her cousin in welcome!
Both of these women knew full well the daily realities of life. Both lived in a setting that our society would classify as “third world” and thus consider of little importance and find easy to ignore.
But God does not think as we think and neither does God assign value as we do. For God, this encounter between two poor women in a third world country is of supreme value.
Here is a prayer experiment to help put the image in the context of our day. In prayer, imagine the setting not being what is found in the icon but the scene of a refugee settlement camp in one of the countries of Africa. Both Mary and Elizabeth’s skin is of a darker hue and they are members of a tribe forced to flee their country due to the threat of genocide. For weeks they have been separated from one another and finally (after searching non-stop) they find one another in the chaos of the camp. Imagine the joy and the love and the peace of that moment even as chaos and despair seem to swirl around them.
This encounter, for God, is of utmost importance; no matter if the world deems it of any significant value.
Part of the task put before us during the Advent season is to learn to see as God sees and to learn to value as God values.