4th SUNDAY OF ADVENT
20th DECEMBER 2015
Luke 1: 39-45
Rev Tony van Vuuren
We should all be familiar with the biblical story of the Visitation. The story of a visit like no other! A convergence of seeming insignificance and portent. Mary rushes to be with her cousin Elizabeth, both of them pregnant.
One is carrying Jesus and the other is carrying John the Baptist. Luke wants us to recognize that both these pregnancies are biologically impossible; one is a virginal conception and the other is a conception that occurs far beyond someone’s childbearing years.
So there is clearly something of the divine in each. In simple language, each woman is carrying a special gift from heaven and each is carrying a part of the divine promise that will one day establish God’s peace on this earth.
During that visitation Elizabeth spoke those lovely words to Mary; “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” You could say that the central theme of the Gospel is the blessedness of those who believe.
All of Jesus’ preaching had as its aim to elicit faith in people’s hearts. However, it is not simply a matter of believing, but of believing and acting on that belief. It is a question of hearing the word and doing it—taking risks on it, and making sacrifices because of it.
Catherine Doherty, Catholic social worker and author, used to say, ”Don’t bother proclaiming that you believe unless you act accordingly.”
We sometimes hear people say, “It’s easy for you; you have great faith.” But it’s not like that. Faith doesn’t always make things easy. In fact, the opposite is more likely to be the case. It’s because one has faith that one refuses to give up.
Faith impels us to persevere, to struggle on, often with no guarantee of a happy outcome. A person with faith never gives up.
Mary is blessed because she not only believed, but also acted on her belief. Immediately after the visit from the angel Gabriel, she went with haste to visit Elizabeth. A long and hazardous journey. From this we see that her religion was not a matter of mere sentimentality.
It was something she converted into deeds. Mary was the first and most perfect disciple of Jesus. That is why the Church proposes her as a model for us. We too will be blessed if, like Mary, we hear the word of God and act on it.
Talk about being blessed with folk who act on the word of God; St Michael’s has so many parishioners from all walks of life who live out their faith in reaching out, serving the community at large. Your service is greatly appreciated and we give thanks for the time spent answering the call to your ministry that you are serving and providing support to.
We have a great example right here in our parish of a young lady who has put her faith into action. Through her work in the Social Justice field Jessica Dewhurst is one of two young South Africans who have been chosen to be honoured by the queen of England for their social outreach work; together with others from around the world.
In our tumultuous world it’s hard to believe the prophetic words we hear today. Will there really be a time some day when God will gather all nations, colours and faiths into a peaceable kingdom, as Micah proclaims to us? Will there be, as Mary prophesies in her Magnificat, which follows directly on from today’s Gospel verse, a time when the promises entrusted to her come true?
Hard to believe; but it is Advent, after all. It’s our time “to dream the impossible dream,” against all the “facts” to the contrary.
Our liturgy calls us today to believe, trust and wait patiently for God to accomplish what God has promised. Christmas is coming in a few days, when God’s promise will take flesh in Jesus who will give everything he has to assure us that his kingdom of peace and justice will not be denied and will surely come.
Meanwhile, we cannot sit back and do nothing. We must put into practice th
e hope we have. Mary did not withdraw from the world to treasure the gift she had received. We learn from Mary’s meeting with Elizabeth to go out to meet another in need: share with them a gesture of welcome, care and love. Judging from Mary and Elizabeth’s meeting today such encounters are potential moments of grace, blessing and joy. Before Christmas arrives is there someone I should visit?
Is there someone I have been avoiding and need to spend a little time with… an elderly parent, estranged child or sibling, someone sick, someone enduring a difficult pregnancy?
The time for our response to God’s Word is now. To help us respond we need to ask Mary, our mother, to pray for us in these last days of Advent. To help us see beyond the busyness and the festive activity, so that we never lose sight of the real meaning of the coming Feast. To help us see Christ in everyone we meet, and most particularly in the visitors we welcome; and help us to bring the presence of Christ into every home we visit, so that in all we say and all we do God’s holy name may be praised and blessed.
The Visitation is such a gentle scene, reflecting the very best of humanity. It is when we serve others that we encounter Jesus Christ. It is when we give ourselves in love that we find that we are loved!