The heavy return of my brain cancer this month has put me into two straight weeks of full brain radiation, which has worn me out. My eyes, still blurred from their dry weeks under the chemo trial, have made it harder to read and write, though I'm giving it my best shot.
One thing I have decided to do in my Scripture reading is simply to "flee to the life of Jesus." Accordingly, I chose the gospel of Luke and began with its long first chapter -- one of my favorite chapters in all of Scripture -- this morning.
I love the way Luke introduces us to the important people in his story and moves that story along. I love the symmetry of the encounters that Zechariah and Mary have with Gabriel, their similarities and their differences (especially in responses to the amazing bits of news they are receiving!). I love that Elizabeth, who does not receive a personal visitation, nonetheless is the first (or seems to be the first, see below!) to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to sing out. I love that Zechariah, bumbling in his "I believe, oh Lord, help my unbelief" sort of faith (and he, a priest!) eventually sings out a song so deep and true that it resonates with my heart today in tremendous power, especially the part about God, in his tender mercy, visiting his people who sit in the shadow of death with an incredible sunrise of light.
And of course, I have always loved Mary's song, the one in between, her amazing Magnificat.
But you know what I noticed today? Unlike Elizabeth and Zechariah, Luke does not tell us, before Mary sings her life-giving and prophetic words, that she was filled with the Holy Spirit. He simply says "And Mary said..."
That puzzled me this morning. For a moment, it seemed like a glaring omission (not something I would ever associate with the Scriptures, and certainly not with Luke, that careful and artful inspired historian). So why, I thought to myself, why would Luke not bring our attention to the fact that Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit too?
And then it dawned on me...duh...I am slow...that he didn't have to. Because he already had. Gabriel had told Mary that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and the power of the Most High overshadow her when Jesus was conceived. And once Jesus was conceived, she carried him inside her. How could it be any plainer? The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, clearly lived inside Mary! Truly and amazingly, in a way that he would never quite live inside anyone else! And in case we somehow missed this news, or had a hard time believing what has just happened to this young girl in her face to face encounter with Gabriel and her humble and loving acquiescence to God's plan and her part in it, he gives Mary (and us, as readers) confirmation of what has happened in Elizabeth's prophecy!
The role of these women in God's unfolding plan of salvation should stun us and compel us, both men and women, to stand in awe of the Lord and his plans for the world. His mercy and lovingkindness goes on and on, his creativity in bringing people into the dance of his mercy is breath-taking. He brings them in, young an old, believing and not fully believing, and once they bow to him and say "yes, Lord" in the face of what he is doing, he takes their readiness and rejoices in it and works through it, and they are set on fire with his Spirit and they sing forth his word. Perhaps we as women should take special encouragement that in the beginning of this gospel. two of the key witnesses and participants are women, because we live in a world (and sometimes a church) that has sometimes tried to sideline our involvement in the Lord's work in the name of cultural traditions.Here we see the kind of women God calls -- they are bold and they are prophetic and they are holding close to God and his promises as they live them and speak them out.
Let it be so in our lives, Lord. Let it be so.