Gospel Reflection – 4th Sunday of Advent
The Joy of the Visitation
Children are counting down the days. After this Sunday, only six more days till Christmas. Excitement is bubbling up. I could feel it myself when watching the television commercial where a little boy keeps asking “Will he really come?” Of course, we all think that he is waiting for Santa Claus. But no, it is Grandad he is waiting for. There is such a smile on his face when he sees Grandad. “I knew you would come.”
“Will he really come?” Many Jewish children must have asked that question as their elders recalled the story of the original fall and the promise that someone would come. Immediately after the fall of Adam and Eve, God promised that there would be a woman whose offspring would crush the head of the serpent.
Years, centuries, went by and that story of hope was passed on from one generation to the next. The great prophet, Isaiah, spoke of a time of peace and reconciliation between traditional enemies. The wolf and the lamb would live side by side, the calf and the lion cub would feed together and a little child would lead them. Furthermore, this child would be of the lineage of Jesse, in other words, of the line of David. David, born in Bethlehem, was the shepherd boy who was chosen and anointed as king. Jesus, also born in Bethlehem, was the king who identified himself as the Good Shepherd.
Will he really come?
“Will he really come? When will he come?” The story was passed on. Surely, when it would eventually happen it would involve important people in important places. But the God of surprises acted differently. The news of great joy was announced in Nazareth! A village in Galilee, never even mentioned in the Old Testament, and now housing the migrant workers employed in one of Herod’s great building schemes.
And the person to whom the message of motherhood was announced … the most unlikely woman, was a consecrated virgin! “How can this come about since I am a virgin”.
Mary’s visit to Elizabeth
Mary was informed by the angel Gabriel that her ageing cousin, Elizabeth, had conceived and was in her sixth month. Mary knew that Elizabeth would welcome her assistance, so she set off over hill and vale as quickly as she could. But it is likely that caring for Elizabeth was not her only motive. The deep experience of God that she received at the Angel Gabriel’s annunciation was something she needed to share with another who had a divine experience. The moment they met was a wonderful celebration of divine presence. Mary had already experienced the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. Now, as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, she too was filled with the Holy Spirit and the child in her womb leapt for joy.
John the Dancer
An American priest, Isaias Powers, wrote a beautiful Advent reflection about baby John’s dancing in the womb. We usually think of John the Baptist as a good man who was ascetical, strict and confrontational. We overlook that Spirit-filled performance in his mother’s womb. Isaac Powers called him John the Dancer. Elizabeth, his mother, took up the dance music and proclaimed the three great blessings of Mary. Then Mary completed the celebration with the Magnificat. “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.” But it was John, as always, who prepared the way.
The three blessings of Mary
The evangelist Luke is the evangelist of the action of the Holy Spirit and he celebrates the Spirit’s presence on the blessed day of the Visitation. That beautiful word ‘blessed’, which tells of God’s giving, is heard three times.
“Of all women you are the most blessed.” Mary is somebody who was specially chosen by God and addressed by the angel as full of grace. In the words of William Wordsworth, she is our tainted nature’s solitary boast: the most blessed of all people.
“Blessed is the fruit of your womb”. In this second blessing, Elizabeth celebrates how the grace bestowed upon Mary will be the source of divine fruitfulness for all of us.
The graces that God offers have to be accepted in total trust. This is where Elizabeth recognised Mary’s third blessedness. “Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Perhaps Elizabeth was thinking of her husband, Zechariah, who doubted the angel’s promise and lost the power of speech until their child was born. Mary expressed her total acceptance of the annunciation. “Let it be done to me according to your word.” Later in the gospel we hear Jesus praise her faith and total obedience: “Blessed is she who heard the word of God and put it into practice.” She is the model of the Church.
What can we do?
Is there anything of a practical nature that we can learn from the Visitation, the Second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary? Mary set off over hilly country when she heard that Elizabeth might need support. Is there anybody or group of people who need my support? Christmas is dreaded by many people … living alone … grieving the loss of a loved one during the year … burdened with bills … having nothing to give to the children. Charitable organizations do fabulous work. It is not too late to make a donation or to offer a driver to deliver parcels.
Then there is the delicate matter of breaking the cold silence which keeps people, even family members, apart. It might not work but somebody must make the first step. And since Christmas is a season of great grace who knows what might happen? As the Angel Gabriel said regarding the unlikely pregnancy of Elizabeth, “Nothing is impossible to God.”
The Visitation Prayer
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.