The Gospel in the Lectionary for the Fourth Sunday of Advent recounts the visitation by Mary to her kinswoman Elizabeth, which is recounted in Chapter 1 of the Gospel of Luke. It is a familiar scene, where Elizabeth breaks out into prophetic utterance, asking rhetorically “But why am I so favoured that the Mother of my lord is coming to me?”, declaring Mary as “the Mother of my lord”, and Mary responds with her famous hymn of liberation, the Magnificat.
While an endearing scene, the homily for that Sunday also alerted the congregation to another reason for this episode’s significance: for this scene provides one of a number of typological links between Mary on the one hand and the Old Testament motif of the Ark of the Covenant on the other, and from that, providing a glimpse into what is to come in the adult life of Jesus.
The Old Testament evidence is another famous bible story: the return of the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem in 1 Chronicles 13. More specifically, it is the prelude to this episode. 1 Chronicles 13 recounts David going up into Kiriath-Jearim (a hillside town belonging to Judah) to bring back the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem, where David and all Israel danced and sang before God (1 Chronicles 13:8). As this episode unfolds, David asks a question that sounds very much like the question of Elizabeth: “How can I bring the ark of God to me?”, before settling the Ark into the house of a man from the priestly tribe of Levi for 3 months, while David establishes himself as king in Jerusalem, and defeats the militarily stronger Canaanite tribe, the Philistines (1 Chronicles 14).
These two reference points, David’s question and the storing of the Ark for 3 months in a priestly house, find their New Testament counterpart in the account of the visitation. Elizabeth asks how another Ark that held the word of God could be brought to her, and Mary stays 3 months in Elizabeth’s house (more specifically, the house of Zechariah who “belonged to the priestly order of Abijah” [Luke 1:5]). With her Magnificat then, Mary as carrier for the Word of God, stands as a harbinger for that important third element: the establishment of a Kingdom that will begin in Jerusalem, and the overcoming and final defeat of an enemy that so many deem unassailable.
We in our day thereby have typological grounds to anticipate the final installation of the Kingdom of heaven, and the final defeat of a mighty enemy, and only the contents of the Ark of the Covenant, and it is only our fidelity to those contents, could bring about that liberation prophesied by Mary’s hymn.
A happy Christmas to all!