In France, northeast of the city of Arles,
stands an old country church, St. Gabriel’s
– named for the Angel of the Annunciation.
Above the front door is a stone bas-relief,
which once depicted the Angel,
the Blessed Virgin Mary, and her cousin, Elizabeth.
Time has all but obliterated the Angel from the scene.
But one can still see Elizabeth and Mary gazing
toward him, awestruck and amazed.
Today’s lesson is like that.
The angel does not appear.
The verse before our lesson reads,
“And the angel departed from her.”
Instead of an angel, we have two expectant women.
But, in their humanity, they radiate grace.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,” Mary says.
She knows she’s glowing and she knows
where the light comes from.
Our lives are also a bit like the stone bas-relief
over the door of St. Gabriel’s.
We don’t see angels very often.
We don’t often see God intervening dramatically
in our world – not in a clear way
with his name written on it in bold letters.
What we see is each other.
Sometimes we see Mary and Elizabeth.
We see them in today’s lesson,
and even if we can’t see the angel,
we can see them.
They can’t really see the angel either at this moment.
But they remember him,
remember him with such clarity
that they still stare in wonder
at the spot where he once stood.
This is a good lesson to read
when the days are short, the traffic is heavy,
and the check-out lines are long.
When we can’t see angels or even remember angels,
it helps to call Mary and Elizabeth to mind,
to watch them watching.
Maybe if we just sit with their image,
listen to their words, we’ll catch a bit of their spirit.
When Mary was in the presence of Gabriel,
she bowed her head and said, “yes”.
Now, at this moment, when she can’t see the angel,
she finds divinity elsewhere.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,” she says.
She has Christ in her womb, and Christ in her soul
because she said “yes.”
It’s good, this time of year, to hold her image in mind.
The great Secretary General of the U.N., Dag Hamersjold,
wrote in his journal that he did not know
who or what had asked the question,
and he wasn’t sure when it was asked,
but he knew that at some moment,
he had once said “Yes to Something,”
and since that moment his life of self-sacrifice
The meaning depended entirely on that one “yes.”
It is a good thing, any time, to look upon someone
who has said “yes” to the mystery of God,
someone who remembers that mystery
even when she can’t see it.
It is good to remember that we have said such a “yes,”
or someone has said “yes” for us
and sealed our foreheads with that “yes”
– or just to be reminded that the mystery is always there,
seen or unseen, bidden or unbidden,
and at any moment we may still say “yes,”
Mary’s yes now flowers into her Magnificat.
But she needs Elizabeth to give her the cue.
Mary had traveled a long way,
probably in a caravan, no doubt
tired, dusty, and maybe nauseous
when she arrived.
Then Elizabeth saw her, saw her deeply,
and greeted her with the first Hail Mary,
“Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”
Elizabeth prompted Mary to remember her “yes,”
to remember that even in her tired, dusty state,
she was glowing;
and she remembered where the glow came from.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,” she said.
When we don’t see angels, when the angels have departed,
they leave a faint trace of divinity in our souls;
just a faint trace, but our souls can magnify it,
can manifest God.
We can manifest God in acts of obedience, acts of mercy,
acts of worship.
And if we look deep enough, we can see
the traces of divinity magnified in each other.
Even if our friends and families have forgotten the angel,
as perhaps Mary had during her journey to Judah,
we can see the afterglow in them
as Elizabeth saw it in Mary.
Now we are at the brink of Christmas,
a time of travels and gatherings,
a time of joy and stress,
of people being people at their best
and at their worst.
We will be with people we wish we could be with always,
and with people we moved here to get away from.
It is an intensely human time of year
– not serene and transcendent,
not a time of spiritual retreat and reflection,
not a time of centered holiness.
It is a time when we are not likely to see angels,
but we are very likely to see each other.
We will see each other in our dusty humanity,
in all our human charm and human obnoxiousness.
Perhaps, if we hold in our imaginations the picture
of Mary and Elizabeth staring at the place
the angel once stood,
we may see each other at a deeper level.
We might even see each other as Elizabeth saw Mary.
We might see people pregnant with Christ,
we might see situations pregnant with Christ,
even when those situations are strained and broken.
They might still seem to us to be theotokos moments,
And like Elizabeth we might say, silently in our hearts,
“Blessed. Blessed art thou.”
And our blessing may touch some person,
or touch some occasion to say,
“My soul magnifies the Lord.”