On Today’s Collect

The image I used for meditation this Advent was the icon (actually, several different images of this icon) of Our Lady of the Sign, or Platytera Ton Ouranon “More Specious Than the Heavens.”  Mary, surrounded by stars, stands in the orans prayer position and within her is a circle containing the Christ child. 

At first …

When I see this icon, I hear old Elizabeth, in the sixth month of her pregnancy.  She carries  the child who will grow up to be a holy man living in the desert, calling people to repentance, preparing the way for the One who is to Come.  Elizabeth is surprised to find her young cousin from the far north at the door of the house.  The girl has come alone.

In a flash of insight, Elizabeth intuits the truth: her cousin is also pregnant.

Elizabeth’s own pregnancy is somewhat of a miracle.  Barren for all these years, a disgrace for a righteous woman, with her husband, Zechariah, an old man himself, the couple are beyond the age of hope for such miracles.  But [one day, when it was ] Zechariah’s priestly turn to serve in the Temple at the hour of incense an angel of the Lord appeared to him in the Holy of Holies.  The angel foretold the birth of their son John, and that even before birth he would be filled with the Holy Spirit.  “He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.  With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Because he questioned, the angel struck Zechariah dumb and he remained so until the day of the naming of his son, nine months later.

Zechariah still could not speak when young Mary showed up at their house.

When Elizabeth saw Mary, her son leapt within her womb.  

 “And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” 

This is what I hear when see this icon.

 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 

Why, me? 

I can think of some pretty good reasons why Mary came to stay with Elizabeth during her pregnancy.  For one thing, she wasn’t married, and even a vulnerable young girl could be stoned for adultery.    

But “why me” is the wrong question – a distraction, a diversion.  The icon does not invite me to gaze upon Mary.   I know why I thought so at first.  

Praying this icon, and imagining the advent of the Christ from Elizabeth’s point of view  is easier than embracing the mystery of Christmas: that is, that the Christ comes to me.  And tabernacles within me.   That my heart and soul and body and mind should say “yes” as Mary did, to eternity dwelling in my fragile flesh. 

The icon of Our Lady of the Sign is not an invitation to look upon Mary.

This icon is meant to be a mirror.

I am looking at myself, bearing the Christ in my souls’ womb.

This is the mystery of Christmas.

                                    *                     *                  *                       *

We present an offering to the one who is himself an offering.

At our simple meals, and at our Holy Communion,

   we invite “both Gift and Giver to dine.”

Donne writes, “ Ere by the spheres time was created, thou

Wast in his mind, Who is thy Son, and Brother;

Whom thou conceiv’st, conceiv’d; yea thou art now

Thy Maker’s maker, and thy Father’s mother;

The whole of the poem is this.

 Salvation to all that will is nigh;That All, which always is All everywhere,Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,Lo, faithful virgin, yields Himself to lieIn prison, in thy womb; and though He thereCan take no sin, nor thou give, yet He will wear,Taken from thence, flesh, which death’s force may try.Ere by the spheres time was created, thouWast in his mind, Who is thy Son, and Brother;Whom thou conceiv’st conceiv’d; yea thou art nowThy Maker’s maker, and thy Father’s mother;Thou hast light in dark; and shut’st in little room,Immensity cloister’d in thy dear womb.  

Immensity, eternity, compassion, the Prince of Peace

  Asks for room

     How many times have I turned him away?  My heart is too full !  My life too complex.  I have enough problems, but do come back another time …

 This year, I’m a bit braver.  I pray … 

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself.

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