4th Sunday Of Advent
23rd December 2012
Luke: 1: 39-45
It doesn’t look like anything of significance is happening in today’s Gospel reading. A young pregnant woman, in danger of becoming an unwed mother, rushes off to help an older woman relative who has surprised everyone by becoming pregnant. It’s a very domestic and common scene. How many pregnant women in the course of history, through to today, have come together for mutual support, encouragement, wisdom and knowing-companionship? This is the view we would have if we didn’t hear the Visitation account with the ears of faith. It was a profound experience for both women, each carrying a very special baby, and through the narrative we see the coming together of Elizabeth and Mary as the coming together of the two Testaments. The promises of the prophets are finally coming to fruition.
The voice of Micah comes to us from a far distant past; eight centuries before Christ.
The fortified city of Jerusalem is under siege by the Assyrians, and in these dire straits,
Micah speaks his message of peace; speaking on God’s behalf, making a promise of peace which hardly seems possible to Micah’s hearers.
Today, as in Micah’s time, the world is a mess with conflicts across the globe. Do we believe what the prophet promises: that there will be a day when “to the ends of the earth” there will be a peaceable kingdom? All the prophets have voiced our dream of peace; a dream that only God alone can bring to fruition.
Luke’s narrative of the meeting between the two pregnant women comes at an appropriate time this weekend as we anticipate Jesus’ birth in two days. Though we are so close to Christmas, this is still a story in Advent. Mary was blessed because she believed what was told her and trusted God’s promises for herself and God’s people. Advent encourages Mary’s virtues in us: to trust, believe, wait in patience and hope in God’s Fidelity towards us. Mary’s first response to the angel’s message was to humbly receive it and give her consent. But her patience and trust do not cause her to sit back to see what God would do next. She responded to what she heard and set out to visit Elizabeth; she acted on the word she heard from the angel Gabriel. So in patient trust we must also wait, with Mary, for God’s Word to be fulfilled in us. Elizabeth speaks not only to Mary but to us today, “Blessed are you who believe that there will be a fulfilment of what was spoken to you from the Lord.”
God will be present with us in numerous ways as we try to be ambassadors for peace — starting in our own families and those in our immediate circle. These may not be earth-shifting peace accords, but God will take notice of our efforts and be with us nevertheless, because God works among us in little ways.
We have two scriptural reminders today: Micah’s promise about insignificant Bethlehem as the place where the Davidic ruler of the future will come from and the private exchange between Elizabeth, the aged and Mary, the young.
There must have been tensions and fears for both women behind the scenes as presented to us by Luke. Elizabeth is called “barren;” which means she would have been subjected to ridicule, even blame, by her neighbours. Her husband, Zechariah, would have been disgraced; children, especially sons, were considered a blessing from God. So, it would appear that Elizabeth, not Zechariah, was being punished by God. It was said that if the male planted the seed; the field was to blame if no fruit resulted!
Mary would also be a humiliated person. Her story starts with a hint of scandal. The
4 day trip to be with Elizabeth would have added to the scandal; a young woman would never venture out alone without male protection. Hastily leaving on her own would have been interpreted as having shameful intentions.
The Visitation account invites us to hear and trust the Good News that we are welcomed by our God, who enters the world through the body of a woman considered an outsider; whose coming is announced by the son of a woman called barren and out of favour with God.
But what expectations did Mary and Elizabeth have about the children they were carrying? Both were devout Jewesses, who believed in the coming of a great Messiah. But as their lives unfolded, what happened to these dreams of greatness? We know Mary “pondered” things in her heart, but how did she deal with her expectations? Did sanctifying grace enable her to accept all that occurred as she journeyed with her son? Was she disappointed when he left her side? Did she ever feel like she had failed? We can think of Mary as “expectant, without expectations.” Open to whatever God willed. Full of grace and hope, but without the expectations that spoil our plans, limit our happiness, or make us feel as if we have failed. Like Mary, we are called to carry Christ. Can we be “expectant, without expectations,” willing to follow God’s call wherever it leads?
“We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to us if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within ourselves? And, what good is it to us if Mary is full of grace if we are not also full of grace?”