Visit of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Elizabeth. Luke 1: 39-49
“39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” 46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”
Greetings are an important part of our life. Every time we meet someone it involves some sort of greeting. Remember how it used to be a handshake, now it is a smile or a wave, a cheery Hi or maybe something more formal.
During the past few weeks and months most of us have had to be limited by how we greet each other. I know that I have found this to be difficult especially when you meet friends and you want to give them a hug, of course our greeting depends on the level of intimacy that we share with someone. We save our jokes for people who speak the same language and then our more formal greetings for those we do not know so well. With friends and those who share our circumstances we can be completely open and free.
But this freedom may be realised in a simple word or phrase. Our language becomes almost code expressing the secrets we share, full of mysteries which others would not understand or regard as relevant, as they do not know the history or beliefs which underpins the words. Every communication is important but some have depth of meaning which speak of the foundation upon which the relationship is built and therefore, are a mystery to an outsider.
The first chapter of Luke’s gospel is full of greetings. Mary is granted the angel Gabriel’s “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.” Zachariah is told “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.” Zachariah is told the mystery of his future son’s life in God and his responsibility towards the Messiah. Mary is told the secret of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, which no one else knows, as proof of the angel’s mission to confirm her own destiny. When she arrived at Elizabeth’s door only Elizabeth would have known why her young relative had come. Mary must have known what others did not.
Elizabeth’s reaction was immediate and spontaneous, her own child leaped within her, in recognition of the presence of the Lord, whose coming he would foretell.
The women shared their blessedness.
A young virgin woman conceived by the Holy Spirit and an older woman past childbearing age who had been able to conceive. They were women who shared a mystery. Their sons would change the world, they were utterly united in faith, anxiety, anticipation, trust and hope. Their acknowledgement of the great things which were happening to them would have been in every touch and sign, every look and most of all in their awareness of their shared maternity, the children within them. Elizabeth exclaimed her joy at the way in which God shares his goodness with those who wait on him in trust and hope.
Cultures which have developed out of religious beliefs often include blessings in their greetings and farewells. “God be with you” has been reduced to “goodbye” and we rarely consider its real meaning when we use it. Mary and Elizabeth recognised each other’s worth in their exchanges, they were life affirming for each other, each acknowledging the others holiness. Their greetings said much more than just “hello”.
Perhaps we too could try to do the same with those we meet, especially at this time when we are not able to greet each other in a physical way. This is a good time for renewing true depth and real life-giving in our relationships. There may be people we have forgotten during this time who would be warmed by your greeting whether that is seeing each other on zoom or any other visual media, a phone call, email or letter.
Maybe we could consider mending broken relationships, not necessarily by complicated explanations, but by a simple word, a recognition of their value. I thought that I would share with you different greetings in other cultures:
Knowing how to greet someone when visiting another country can help you avoid an awkward encounter.
Here is how you say hello in countries around the world.
*Argentina: Kiss on the right cheek
In Argentina, men greet other men with a kiss, so do not be surprised or offended if this occurs. Lightly press your cheek against the right cheek of another for a light kiss.
*Japan: A bow
In Japan, the preferred way to greet someone you’re meeting is to bow to one another.
*Nigeria: Snapping fingers handshake
In Nigeria, young people usually greet each other in a special way, where they snap their fingers in the process of a handshake. This handshake is not very easy, so you actually need a Nigerian to teach you how to snap fingers while shaking hands.
*Russia: A firm handshake
In Russia, a firm handshake is the standard way for men to greet one another in public.
*New Zealand: Hongi (touching noses)
Known as hongi, this traditional Māori greeting in New Zealand is done by pressing your nose and forehead to another person’s at the same time.
This one is a greeting typically done with those you’re close with. To perform it, place your nose and upper lip against the cheek or forehead of the other person and take a breath.
Place your palms together at your chest and bow your head so that your thumbs touch your chin and your fingertips touch your forehead.
*France: Kiss on each cheek
The common greeting in France is kissing on the cheek. Typically, it will be two kisses but the number of kisses can vary depending on the region. As a common starting point, offer your right cheek and let the other person lead.
This greeting is carried out by placing your hands together in a praying position with your fingers pointed upwards and bowing slightly when you say “Namaste.”
*Ukraine: A triple kiss
Don’t pull back after a kiss on each cheek in Ukraine. Here, the custom is to kiss cheeks three times — left, right, left— to say hello.
*Tibet: Sticking your tongue out
This tradition dates back to the 9th century and references the Tibetan king Lang Darma, who was known for his evil ways and had a black tongue. People still greet each other this way today.
*The Philippines: Mano
When greeting elders, take their hand and press their knuckles against your forehead as a sign of respect.
There are many other ways of greeting around the world including funny and strange ones. Most especially in Africa where they have different tribes and cultures, like the Maasai tribe of Kenya and Tanzania who greet friends by spitting on one another. Spitting is still acceptable when greeting elders, but a younger tribesman traditionally spits on his own hand before offering it to older members of the tribe as a sign of respect.
We might consider ways of exchanging greetings which catch some of Elizabeth’s and Mary’s exuberance and blessings to each other. There is a blessing and joy in the greetings and praise that we give and offer to our Father in heaven every day.