Thought for the week - Advent III
Isaiah 61.1-4, 8-end
John 1.6-8, 19-28
Another reminiscence from Portsmouth days! During my time as a curate in Southsea I was also part-time on the staff of Portsmouth Cathedral. During this period there were several exhibitions of artwork in the building. One such was an exhibition of carvings by the Polish artist Josef Pyrz. (1946 – 2016) [Some of his work is now in Durham Cathedral]
I was much taken with his work, and particularly with this, called ‘Annunciation 2.’
The figure is over life-size. The Virgin Mary is shown with the Angel Gabriel whispering in her ear. Gabriel ‘speaks the Word’ into Mary, as it were, and the ‘Word becomes flesh’ in the womb of Mary. For Pyrz, the word spoken by Gabriel and Jesus, the Word made flesh are inseparably linked. The figure of Mary is twisted, it is as if she turns round in surprise. Her arms and legs appear as though they are trembling. As we know from the Gospel account of the Annunciation, Mary is afraid, shocked even at what is being asked of her.
Now, this week we are not considering Our Lady in detail, rather we are looking at the Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah, foretelling the words of John the Baptist, who indeed foretells the coming of the Word made flesh, Jesus. We consider too, how Jesus goes on to describe his work, his very reason for taking flesh in the womb of Mary, as Pyrz illustrates.
In our Gospel reading, John the Baptist announces the coming of Jesus. He ‘Prepares the Way of the Lord.’ He is not the Messiah himself he takes great care to point out, but is a voice, preparing the way for the Word – you might say John is speaking the Word. This is reminiscent of (though of course not the same as) Gabriel speaking into the ear of Mary in the carving. Gabriel is not the Word, but carries the Word. John is not the Word, but speaks of the Word.
Mary is not the Word, but carries the Word and brings him into the world. We shall be thinking more about that next Sunday. But for now, we must understand what and who The Word is – who is John preparing the way for?
Our Old Testament reading tells us.
The servant of the Lord said:
1The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the poor,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
2to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
Mary exclaims this in her Magnificat in response to the greeting of Elizabeth
He hath shewed strength with his arm :
he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat :
and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things :
and the rich he hath sent empty away.
These are the words of Jesus himself at the beginning of his ministry. (Lk ch4)
(Jesus) went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” f
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Isaiah, John, Mary, Jesus himself, all tell us that his ministry will be one of
• bias to the poor,
• aid to the oppressed,
• feeding of the hungry
• and the putting down of the mighty
No wonder Mary is afraid!
But perhaps we too should be afraid! For if we are called to proclaim Jesus, if we are called to proclaim the ways of Jesus to the world and to live his life, then this must be our proclamation & our life too.
Like Mary in the carving, truly, our legs and our arms should shake!