Dec. 22, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Advent, 2018

Mary’s Surprise Gift to Elizabeth

Readings: 1st- Micah 5:1-4; 2nd- Heb. 10:5-10; Gospel- Lk. 1:39-45

 On December 20th, Pope Francis stated in his homily, “God lowers himself, God enters history and does so in his original style: a surprise. The God of surprises surprises us (again).” He was alluding to the incarnation of Christ and the encounter between the angel and the Blessed Virgin Mary at the annunciation. The Pope pointed out that Christmas presents us with series of surprises from God. One such surprise is the pregnancy of Elizabeth at a very old age, then the visitation of the Virgin Mary which is the story we hear in the gospel of today. God lowers himself to visit humanity through the incarnation. Divinity lowers himself in the womb of Mary to visit John the Baptist in the womb of Elizabeth.

In the first reading, the prophet Micah speaks about the coming messiah. Bethlehem, considered as one of the smallest clans of Judah produces the great king. What a surprise! Micah remarks that this king shall stand firm as the shepherd of his flock surrounded by majesty. His greatness will reach the ends of the earth. About his rulership, not with sword or spectacle of power, rather, “He shall be peace” (Mic. 5:4). This title is similar to the prophecy of Isaiah about the birth of a messiah for Israel put this way, “For a child is born to us, a son is given us… They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:5). Bethlehem hosts this Prince of Peace just as the Virgin Mary hosts the Son of God. A surprise!

The drama of the visitation begins this way, “Mary sets out” to experience the joy of the miraculous pregnancy of Elizabeth. The Lectors’ workbook for 2019 recognizes four actors in this drama: “the Old Testament, personified in Elizabeth; the New Testament, represented by the young Virgin; divine Grace incarnate, present in the Virgin’s pregnancy, and John the Baptist, in Elizabeth’s womb.” We might consider two things in this great encounter: one is the surprise emanating from the visit; the other is the acknowledgment of the unborn child. 

Regarding the first, we see Elizabeth who represents the old history depicted by barrenness. Here, this old history is encountering the light of God’s grace and favor represented by the Virgin Mary. Elizabeth’s story changes, she is transformed. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth declares how much of her history becomes past. She connects with Mary’s favor, “Blessed are you among women.” Then she echoes the privilege arising from that favor, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me” (Lk.1:43). Elizabeth partakes in the newness of God’s love irrespective of her old age. She represents the prophecy of Isaiah which states, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (9:2). This corroborates the angel’s message to Mary about her, “…and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God” (Lk. 1:36-37).

John, who will later describe himself as the “voice” leaps and dances for joy at the encounter with Grace Incarnate. John the Baptist seems to be the greatest beneficiary of the visit as Jesus’ forerunner. He leaps with joy at the presence of the one whose sandals he will not be fit to undo. John dances before the Ark of the New Covenant, the Blessed Virgin Mary. He embraces the great Light right inside his mother’s womb. 

Mary’s visit offers Elizabeth the greatest gift ever, gifts wrapped in simplicity and affection of the Blessed Virgin. The joy of Elizabeth is captured in the dance performed by the infant in her womb. Mary, on her part, carries God’s surprise for her cousin. The infant Jesus is the Gift, the reason for the dance. 

Equally, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth shows the value and dignity of the unborn. The encounters here depict the respect which both Elizabeth and Mary show to their unborn babies. Mary hears the angel’s message, sets out to visit Elizabeth. Elizabeth recognizes the child in Mary’s womb, John leaps in the womb. Here, we see series of affection and appreciation of the dignity of the human person right form the womb. Elizabeth greets not just the Virgin Mary but mostly the child in her womb as she exclaims, “and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Lk. 1:42). The incarnation of Christ reminds us of the sanctity of the unborn child. Like John the Baptist, infants in the womb share in their parents’ joys as well as in their sorrows. We must realize not only the biology of pregnancy but its spirituality. We must anticipate and promote freedom for the unborn. The unborn is blessed. The unborn is a gift. The unborn is a source of joy and in turn wants to be joyful. The unborn needs to be listened to, appreciated like Elizabeth and Mary appreciated the infants Jesus and John the Baptist. We must protect the unborn.

As Christmas comes very close, let us emulate Mary and Elizabeth in communicating joys to those around us. Let us appreciate the need to be with one another during this time. Mary reminds us to share gifts and presents with loved ones, to reach out to those in need. We all have been blessed by God in various ways. It is not all about material or monetary gifts. It is mostly about our comforting and positive presence. Think of what you do to another person during this season. The best gift is to make others leap for joy. It doesn’t matter how little it is. What matters is the impact of such. Let us be that symbol of joy to one another. Let us be the surprise that others would experience. If God has surprised us, we must in turn, surprise others.