Fourth Sunday of Advent 2012 – Luke 1:39-45 – December 23, 2012 – Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT 2012
Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
Elizabeth, although more than twice as old as Mary, is six-months pregnant with the child who will be called John the Baptist. At that time, a woman of Israel felt fulfilled only with a child to complete herself. How good that at this later time in life Elizabeth, becoming a mother, would hold up her head in any gathering. We imagine that Mary smiled and was happy for her cousin.
And Mary could be present with Elizabeth. Mary might share in such good fortune. Importantly also, Mary could offer a strong young arm to do the washing and sweeping and cooking needful in any house; in her current state cousin Elizabeth would accomplish all of that only with difficulty. Of course, Elizabeth’s house was quite a distance away, about one hundred miles, surely at least six or seven days of travel. You and I need not wonder at such a long distance walk. After all, our eighteenth century ancestors walked form St. Louis, Missouri, to Oregon City, Oregon. Now that was a two thousand mile walk!
But Mary, we might imagine, just wanted to go, just felt exuberant, for the angel had announced Mary’s own pregnancy. Perhaps she had never been so far from Nazareth, had never experienced other parts of Judea. Mary just wanted to move her limbs, just wanted to be doing, to go. Likely, a caravan would be headed to Jerusalem. Joseph would arrange that!
Have you wondered why basketball players on the bench keep looking at the scoreboard, or have you asked why you keep watching the scoreboard even when you know that your team has a twelve point lead? You know the score, but you often glance at the tally. Why?
Perhaps you desire to reaffirm the facts; perhaps watching the victory over the competitor reaffirms your sense of superiority.
Perhaps for many reasons Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth. We attend Mass on various accounts, and among these is that we find ourselves strengthened by repeated daily prayer and frequent communion. Furthermore, Elizabeth was relieved of barrenness by a miracle; Mary would desire to share in this wonder by her presence at Elizabeth’s home. Suppose that the person who won a gold medal in track or swimming at the summer Olympics lived in your neighborhood; by association, you would be glad for this person and you would share the gladness of the event. Mary shared in the gladness of Elizabeth’s miraculous conceiving a son.
Elizabeth knows of Mary’s consent to the incarnation. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). She is favored, and she is honored. At this critical instant, the world awaits this young woman’s assent to the divine plan. She is free in her moment of decision. The Lord respects Mary’s decision, Mary’s acceptance of God’s plan to bring salvation to humans. With the divine design Mary elects her encounter and agreement. Mary is a servant of Yahweh; she is a woman of faith whose “yes” is unequivocal.
That is a great moment in human history. It reminds us of Abraham’s faith. Although both Abraham and Sarah, husband and wife, are well past the middle of life, yet God promises that he will be father to nations. “No distrust made [Abraham] waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what [God] had promised” (Romans 4:20-21). Like Abraham, the handmaid’s faith is full. Elizabeth hails Mary as the blessed one whose faith has brought Mary to serve the Lord.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in [Elizabeth’s] womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you bear. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?”
You and I share in Elizabeth’s wonder. This visit of Mary to her cousin helps us realize the coming birth of Christ among us. In this scene, two marginalized women—one young and poor, the other beyond the age to conceive—meet in the hill country of Judea to celebrate their miraculous pregnancies. The story is joyful, fleshy, earthy, the doing of God among us humans.
Just as Mary, pregnant with the Savior, comes to Cousin Elizabeth, so the Church comes with Christ to you and me. This visit repeats a bit of the angel’s message to Mary. We hear Elizabeth essentially repeating what the angel told Mary: “Hail favored one, the Lord is with you.” And we are reminded of that marvel. “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:31-32). With this visit we relive the coming of God among us.
Just as the Holy Spirit fills Elizabeth with realization of Mary bearing the incarnate Lord, so the Church awakens you and me to the drama in our midst. Although our culture finds other matters more important, the Church announces God among us. Decorated Christmas trees, carols in school concerts, reindeer cards join with shopping malls and red or green lights to marginalize the Church’s shout to us. This visit reminds us that on the fourth Sunday of Advent, we prepare ourselves and make ready for the Lord among us.
As we make ready for Christmas, Elizabeth’s question awakens us. “And why has this happened to me?” Such a wonder humbles us and renews our faith. Amen!