I have just returned from twelve days in the Holy Land. In fact, I just got back late on Friday evening. It has been both interesting and exciting to spend part of Advent visiting many of the places where Jesus lived and taught.
One of the first places we visited was Ein Kerem, the beautiful village where John the Baptist was born and grew up. Ein Kerem is quite hilly with beautiful views across the valley. Someone living there in John’s time would probably have been relatively well off. When we got there, we went first to a spring known as Mary’s spring – and there we were reminded of the importance of wells and springs in Jesus’ day, both for the water they supplied, but also because they were a gathering place for the women. Just as today we might meet in the school playground or the supermarket, they met at the well and there exchanged the news and the gossip. Today we have so many means of communication, texting, emails, all the social networking, as well as the telephone and the letter. It was not so then – and it was important that they took the opportunities that were there to share news. Have you heard … ? Did you know ….? I always think it interesting to reflect on what is the news that we pass on. It is so easy to spread rumour and gossip, but what we are called to do is spread the Good News, the Gospel. Go and tell. I wonder what are the things that we are going and telling. What is it that we want to share?
From the spring we climbed a steep hill to the Church of the Visitation. The Church of the Visitation was completed in 1955 to a design by Antonio Barluzzi. It was built to commemorate Mary’s visit to Elizabeth - there they were, both expecting babies, and both, it might be assumed, should not have been in that state. Why did Mary go to visit Elizabeth? Was it because she wanted to share her good news? Or might it just be that Mary was sent there to get her out of the way for a bit? How scandalous that she was unmarried and pregnant! And Elizabeth wasn’t much better. She was probably the source of gossip too. She was married all right, but you shouldn’t be having babies at her age. As Calvin Miller says: “Elizabeth must have found her joyous old-age pregnancy the brunt of community gossip”, adding, “She stood with one foot in the grave and the other in the neonatal ward.” How do we respond to the scandal of the Gospel? What do we do with those awkward things that come our way?