Against the background of siege and trouble for the people of Judah, Micah announces a new king, a descendant of David, who will come from David’s hometown, Bethlehem. The ancestors of this new king go back a long way, but it is he who will “rule over Israel”. The account of this new king clearly reflects some of the prevalent Messianic prophecies. The people of Israel will be exiled until the mother of the new king gives birth. “The Lord is therefore going to abandon them until she who is going to give birth, gives birth.” This new born son will be an ideal king who welcomes back a remnant of exiles and will nourish his flock, supported by the power of God. In his own person, he will guarantee peace and ensure relief from the archenemy, Assyria, which was the super power of that era.
The Gospel brings us to the real mother of the Messiah. The Angel Gabriel had already announced to Mary that she would be the mother of the Messiah and Son of God. The angel also told her that her cousin Elizabeth, even in her old age, had herself conceived a son and was already in her sixth month. Prompted by this information Mary went to visit Elizabeth. It was an act of great compassion on Mary’s part. The meeting was marked by great joy. Even the child in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy. Elizabeth, “filled with the Holy Spirit” took on a prophetic role. She understands where Mary stands in God’s plans. She is the most blessed and favoured of all women and the child of her womb is also blessed. She raises a pertinent question, “Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord.” It betrays the insight that Mary is the Mother of God. This is remarkable but she is very probably voicing Luke’s understanding of who Mary’s child really is. The same goes for her final comment. She would not have known of Mary’s “yes” of faith. Still she commends her for her belief in God’s promise to her. “Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
Many scholars believe that there is more to this story than meets the eye. They link it with the story of the arrival of the ark of the covenant in Jerusalem during David’s reign. The Ark of the Covenant was all important for the people of God in the Old Testament. It was a box like container that carried the tablets of the law. On the top of the Ark there were two winged creatures called cherubim. These faced each other. It was believed that God was present to his people in the space between the cherubim above the Ark of the Covenant. Wherever the ark went God went with it. It carried the presence of God.
Before David’s time the ark of the covenant was lost to the people of God. It was captured by the Philistines. David succeeded in getting it back to Jerusalem. When it arrived he himself and the whole house of Israel danced before Yahweh with all their might. In the Visitation story the child in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy. David raised the question, “How can the ark of Yahweh (God) come to be with me?” We remember Elizabeth’s question, “Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord?” In Jerusalem the ark did not go immediately to the sanctuary in the temple. It stayed in the house of Obededom for three months. Mary, for her part, stayed with Elizabeth for three months and then went home.
There are a number of coincidences between both stories. It is believed that it was Luke’s intention to present Mary as the new Ark of the Covenant because God resides in her. That was Mary’s dignity and role, to carry the Son of God and make it possible for him to enter our world as a human person, who was also the Son of God, come to reveal God to us in a very human way. That is the essential and most powerful message of Christmas. Let us not allow the tinsel, the glitter and the busyness to steal that message from us this Christmas.