image found at https://www.passionistnuns.org/passionist-calendar/2018/5/31/feast-of-the-visitation-of-mary-to-elizabeth
Whence is it that my Lord
Himself should visit me,
Should stoop to such a wretch abhorr'd,
And claim my misery?
He leaves His throne above
For His own mercy sake,
He comes constrain'd by pitying love,
And doth my nature take.
What angel can conceive?
Thou wouldst to all our ransom'd race
Faith and salvation give,
Thou dost the grace reveal,
Thou dost the faith impart,
And thus Thou com'st again to dwell
For ever in my heart. ~ Charles Wesley
We are deep in the season of Advent, and we have once again read the story of the Angel Gabriel's appearance to Zechariah with an unexpected birth announcement for him and Elizabeth, and we have heard again the Virgin Mary's "yes" to God's interruption by way of incarnation into her life and body. Only Luke tells us this particular story that places two seemingly ordinary women at the very center of salvation history. Again and again in his gospel, Luke, himself an outsider, seeks to draw our attention to the oft-overlooked participants in the drama -- to women, to the poor, to the stranger.
In this icon and in the hymn we see the juxtaposition of the joy at Elizabeth's surprising conception with the exultation at Mary's even more astounding news of her own pregnancy. The two women hold each other tenderly as their unborn infants shift, as John the forerunner salutes his greater cousin Jesus by literally leaping for joy. Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, greets Mary by asking in wonderment why the mother of her Lord is coming to her, honoring Mary (and perhaps herself) for trusting that the promise spoken by God would indeed be fulfilled, while Mary responds with a song praising God for what may seem "upside down" reasons. But this is of course, an upside down kind of God who trades immortality for mortality, stooping down, becoming flesh like us so that we might be filled with all the fullness of God. The Christ who interrupted his own life above interrupts the cycle of sin and death below by becoming incarnate in the lives of those whose lives he enters into.
Interestingly, in Charles Wesley's hymn, he takes upon himself the role of Elizabeth AND of Mary and invites us to do the same. In the first verse, he shifts Elizabeth's words of salutation to Mary into a cry of bewildered joy that the Incarnate Lord has set aside the grandeur of heaven to embrace human nature and flesh, while the second verse is a reverie that calls to mind Luke's later words about Mary pondering all these things in her heart. The coming of the One who lifts up the lowly and fills the hungry with good things is a mystery beyond the eloquence of angels, and his advent is not simply a never-to-be-repeated virginal conception but an ongoing gift of grace as he makes his home in the hearts of all who accept his offer of salvation and faith. His coming not only interrupts the predictable, ordinary life that Mary probably expected for herself; his coming also interrupts the dominance of sin in the life of the world and breaks its power forever.
These are themes that Charles Wesley returns to repeatedly. He cannot exhaust the praise of a God whose nature and name are Love; if he had one thousand tongues and as many years, he could not begin to describe the grace of such a gift. But in his attempts to sound the depths of this divine grace, he continues to give us words to sing and pray as we celebrate the coming of the Lord, this Jesus who dwells forever in our hearts.