Rector’s notes:

Reflection: Femmes Fatales
The first two chapters of St Luke’s Gospel contain stories of the baby Jesus and baby John (John who’ll grow up to be John the Baptist), and in  particular what Jesus’ mother and John’s mother got up to in the time approaching and after the birth of their babies. One stand-out theme in these early stories is the “rebellious” tone of Mary and Elizabeth’s visitation.
Elizabeth greets Mary as “Blessed art thou among women”. Only two Old Testament women ever received this innocuous-enough sounding greeting. The two women in the Old Testament who are greeted with this formula are: Jael, the woman who drove a tent peg through a foreign military oppressor’s skull; and Judith who used a sword to remove a foreign oppressive military leader’s head. Both these women thus adopted a militaristic solution to their need for deliverance. They were like the “resistance”—like the bold Fenians of Ireland. St Luke’s inclusion of this greeting acknowledges one strand of expectation surrounding the Jewish
hope for a messiah—God’s people hoped for a messiah who would bless them and dispatch their enemies. Mary lifts the pitch by singing the Magnificat. Despite the way we sweetly intone these lyrics of the Magnificat, they too, are bold “rebellion” words—Lord, take down the powerful oppressors from their thrones and lift up the lowly—fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty. The anti-Imperial tones are clear. So that when we get to grown-up John the Baptist in today’s reading his “softly, softly” answer to the Roman-collaborating soldiers and Tax-Collectors is a real shock. You would expect the elder child of this rebellious Fenian-sisterhood to say “Leave the employ of the oppressor!” Instead it is this very gentle response. Keep your job, collaborating with the empire—but do your job distinctively. Tax Collectors, don’t take any extra “on the side” to line your own pockets; and soldiers, don’t use your intimidating positions to exploit the powerless. And thus John the Baptist proves a true “fore-runner” to Jesus whose own “Surprise!” will come in the Nazareth Synagogue Sermon when Jesus tells stories about how God’s love goes  beyond the boundaries of Israel to include foreigners—including those foreign powers that threaten to oppress us.
Peace, Dean