Mary and Elisabeth Meet Zachariah Lorenzo Salimbeni
Luke 1:56 tells us that Mary (and Unborn Jesus) stayed with Elizabeth (and unborn John) and Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah for three months. Most spiritual writers through the centuries have understood this to mean that Mary was present for John’s birth (and for the circumcision and naming of John eight days later). In fact, many believe that it was Mary who told Luke the details of these various events – or if not Mary directly, that Luke learned of them through a Marian tradition.
The priest Zechariah was the first representative of Israel to be informed of the immediate coming of the Messiah. See Lk 1:5-25. When Gabriel appeared to Zechariah he received but a lukewarm reception. Gabriel was not impressed and struck Zechariah silent, unable to speak. Nonetheless, Zechariah would have relayed the words and events in a written form to his wife Elizabeth and also to his guest and relative Mary (especially since Mary was the mother of the Messiah).
Mary would have been immensely interested in every word that Gabriel spoke. While most of the angelic message was actually about the son Elizabeth would bear, there were multiple references to the Lord (v. 15, 16, 17). Curiously, and in light of Gabriel’s next visit to a representative of Israel – that is, Mary in Nazareth – each of these references to “the Lord” could be understood also as references to Jesus. (Recall Elizabeth’s later comment when Mary arrived: “And why is this granted me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” v.43)
All of these references to “the Lord” revealed that there would be a period of preparation during which John would have a tremendous ministry to the people of Israel. One reason this is significant is because it indirectly predicts the early success of “Christianity” within Israel (for example on Pentecost and following). At any rate, this was an optimistic message from the angel about what was to come, albeit, within an indefinite time frame.
Not only was Gabriel’s message to Zechariah very optimistic, but Gabriel even described it in a telling phrase: “I was sent…to bring you this good news” (v. 19). This characterization by God’s messenger of what is coming, confirms in Mary’s mind that God’s Mercy is at work and is a wondrous force for good and blessing. But perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of Gabriel’s message was when he said of Elizabeth’s son: “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (v. 15). This explains the mystery of John leaping for joy when the Unborn Christ approaches him and Mary greets Elizabeth. Would Mary remember that spectacular event more than thirty years later when she was in the Upper Room with the early Church on Pentecost Day when the Holy Spirit would fill each member of the Church? (see Acts 1:13-14, 2:1-4).
Finally after the baby’s birth, when Zechariah obediently names his son John – according to Gabriel’s instructions – Zechariah is now filled with the Holy Spirit and speaks! He proclaims what we now call the Benedictus (Lk 1:67-79). Zechariah points to the mystery of Salvation that is dawning upon Israel. He speaks of Christ as “a horn of salvation” raised up by God Most High. Mary is nearby with this “horn of salvation”, the Christ, growing within her womb (unbeknownst to the neighbors gathered around for the blessed ceremonies). Zechariah confirms that all of this is “as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old” – a phrase reminiscent of the Nicene Creed reference: “We believe in the Holy Spirit…He has spoken through the prophets”.
So once again, Mary is the recipient of all of this Divinely inspired information about the Messiah, His mission, the meaning of it, the supporting characters involved and so on. Mary’s heart is like a holy depository of sacred Messianic information. Mary – because God has called her to this function, as part of her “office” as the mother of “the Son of God” – is now the filter, the arbiter of the message of salvation, carrying it within her heart, to deliver at the appropriate time (while she carries the Christ within her, to be delivered after nine months).
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