27th July 2022

In her last ‘Thought for the Day’ Margaret described the carving we had recently seen in Elne, France, of Elizabeth and Mary talking together (and Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah eavesdropping from behind a pillar!). This past week I’ve also been thinking about that meeting, and other episodes in the opening chapters of Luke’s Gospel, because they happen to be the current readings in the Daily Office which I follow. At first it feels bit odd, to be reading the ‘Advent’ and ‘Christmas’ stories, the birth of John the Baptist, the annunciation to Mary, and Mary and Joseph travelling to where there was no room in the inn, during a heatwave instead of in the bleak midwinter. But an unaccustomed change in our environment jolts me out of too-familiar ways of reading these stories, and makes me look at them afresh; just as at Christmas it’s salutary to think of people celebrating the festival under a blazing sun on Australian beaches or in teaming Brazilian rainforests.

An obvious point maybe, but reading the stories ‘out of season’ I see that both Elizabeth and Mary are surprising choices for the Holy Spirit’s working, which is also ‘out of season’ according to conventional wisdom. Elizabeth is too old for child-bearing, while Mary is too young – well, not biologically too young but as yet socially unsuited and unprepared to have a child. For a particular purpose God has in mind, no one should be written off as either too old and past it, or too young and socially inappropriate. Let the Holy Spirit come and work whatever wonders God wishes, in God’s own way.

Keith Clements