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The Life of Jesus Christ, and the Art He Inspired: The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth

Updated on January 10, 2016

The Magnificat by The Zoe Group

Chapter Three: Mary Seeks a Support System.

This is the third installment in my series of hubs about important events in the life of Jesus Christ and the great art that His life inspired. Here we have the Visitation. Consider this. In all of Israel there are only two women who are facing miraculous pregnancies. One is an old woman who has lived with the disgrace of her barrenness for years, and the other is a young, unmarried girl who might just be stoned if the people of her village are scandalized enough by her condition. Each of them is bearing a boy who will become a revolutionary religious leader, although the younger is far greater than the elder. And, as providence would have it, they not only know each other, they are related to each other!

The Visitation by Rembrandt van Rijn

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Heimsuchung Mariä, Tondo by Vicente Masip

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La Visitación by Luis de Morales

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Luke 1:39-46

39 And Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah,

40 and entered into the house of Zacharias and saluted Elizabeth.

41 And it came to pass, when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost.

42 And she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.

43 And why is it granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

44 For lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.

45 And blessed is she that believed; for there shall be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

46 And Mary said, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,

47 and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.

48 For He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden; for behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

49 For He that is mighty hath done to me great things, and holy is His name.

50 And His mercy is on them that fear Him, from generation to generation.

51 He hath shown strength with His arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.

53 He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away.

54 He hath helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy,

55 as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever.”

56 And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.

The Visitation by Michelangelo Unterberger

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Meditation: The Power of Friendship in Challenging Times

It's not easy being an unwed mother in biblical Israel. It's not easy being a barren wife there, either. When she first encounters angel Gabriel, Mary is frightened; when she learns she is pregnant, she is unsure, because she is still a virgin. Seeing elderly Elizabeth in her sixth miraculous month of pregnancy is the sign Mary needs in order to truly embrace the wondrous news given to her by the angel. It is no accident that Mary's Magnificat, one of the most stirring passages in the Bible, occurs now rather than at the time of the angel's annunciation.

I can't help but smile at the fact that in her predicament, Mary had somebody she could turn to who could celebrate her condition rather than condemning it. Indeed, in many paintings about this meeting, Elizabeth is shown on her knees to Mary, because she knows that her son, while a great religious leader and baptizer, will be only the prophet who proclaims the coming of Jesus to the world. Mary is the mother of Jesus, and Jesus is God Incarnate. We cannot underestimate the significance of a proper Hebrew matron on her knees to an unwed girl; these are great times asking for great understanding, and this meeting between two remarkable women of faith is ultimately one of the Bible's greatest stories about friendship between two women. There are not that many of those. I am happy that they had each other to turn to in their time of great uncertainty and excitement.

It is also inspiring for me to see the overwhelming joy that Mary had as she pondered her situation. The Magnificat touches on themes that occur throughout the story of God's plan for His people. It recalls His mercy for sinners, and His favor towards the poor and the downtrodden of the world. Mary and Elizabeth are obscure women in a nation that has been occupied by the Roman empire. They are the lowliest of the low, but God has given Mary the greatest honor that any ordinary human being will ever receive. She is the mother of the Christ, and Elizabeth is there to be her support system as she adjusts to this extraordinary gift.

La Visitation by Nicolas Labbé

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Prayer

Dear Lord,

Help me to remember that You are present in our lives as we undertake our greatest challenges. Grant me the courage to face my challenges with joy and excitement rather than with dread. Help us all to understand how our support systems make these challenges easier to bear, and to treasure our friendships with those we trust and hold dear. Help us to remember that God loves and treasures each one of us, no matter how despised or lowly we may be, and that the gift of Your Son is the ultimate sign of Your love for us.

Painting
Creator, date
Where it is located
Heimsuchung Mariä, Tondo
Vicente Masip, 16th century
Museo del Prado: Madrid
The Visitation
Rembrandt van Rijn, 1640
Detroit Institute of the Arts
La Visitación
Luis de Morales, 1570
Altarpiece of the Church of San Martin: Plasencia
The Visitation
Michelangelo Unterberger, 18th century
Museum of Fine Arts: Budapest
La Visitation
Nicolas Labbé, 1643
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Marseille

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