Not so long ago I admitted from this pulpit that I hated the Wizard of Oz, which didn’t win me many friends that day. On December 3rd, NBC aired the Wiz, a live musical spectacular, and it was an unmitigated hit, watched by millions of people, none of them named Fr. Matt Tucker of Bordentown. I guess my problem with the Wiz is that it took something I didn’t like already and made a true musical out of it, which just makes it geometrically worse in my eyes. I just can’t seem to enjoy musicals, though I know that puts me in the minority.
I will admit, though, that the idea of a musical is a pretty magical idea. We get to imagine a world in which people just spontaneously burst out into song, original song at that, in response to sometimes nothing much in particular.
“It’s not even all that common in the Gospels, with the giant exception of the opening chapters of Luke where Luke all-but morphs into Andrew Lloyd Weber, having his characters—from Zechariah to a whole host of angels—bust out in song again and again.
“But no song is quite as startling as the one young Mary sings after meeting up with her pregnant older cousin Elizabeth. C.S. Lewis famously labeled this “a terrible song,” playing on the Latin word terribilis, which means “dreadful, frightful, fearsome.” The lyrics themselves shake the foundations of all we know—more on that in a moment—but the fact that they emanate from the larynx of such a young girl as Mary stuns our imagination on yet another level.”1
This particular song is the Magnificat, which of course we know is emblazoned on the windows above the chapel altar. The setting is what we have come to call the Visitation, which has it’s own window in the chapel, the first in the series of moments in the life of the Blessed Virgin memorialized in glass.
Mary had heard from the archangel Gabriel that her cousin Elizabeth was pregnant, about six months along, and Mary knew something was special about that pregnancy and not just because an angel bothered to mention it to her. Elizabeth was a woman of a certain age, faithful to God and to her priest husband Zechariah, and she was barren – she had reached that certain age and she and Zechariah hadn’t had any children.
“The trip from Nazareth in Galilee where Mary lived to a village in Judea where Elizabeth lived would take four days. (Later Christian tradition identified Am Karem, eight kilometers west of Jerusalem, as the place.)2 Luke tells us that Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months, which means she was present, and so was Jesus, at the birth of the Baptist.
But today we’re talking about that moment, that musical-worthy moment, of the meeting of the moms and their very special children. Mary speaks first – a greeting which Luke didn’t record – but it’s Elizabeth’s reaction that starts things off. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth yells out “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb!” And then the kicker, for me: “And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” How is it that I can possibly have joy upon joy? After years of sorrow and disappointment and foreign oppression and, frankly, having to live with Zechariah the priest (we all know how hard that can be), how is it that God has chosen me to visit?
What does she get in return? “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Not “Hey, thanks,” not Mary claiming to be somehow important in and of herself, but Mary pointing once again to God, acknowledging through her entire shockingly musical response that the Lord was doing a new thing, that He was fulfilling every promise of justice and mercy, that He was going to be present once again with His people.
I just love this scene: two women, old and young, yelling at each other in astonishment and wonder that the Lord Himself has come to them. How do we respond when He comes to us?
1Scott Hoezee, This Week.
2John J. Pilch, http://liturgy.slu.edu/4AdvC122015/theword_cultural.html