Gospel for December 20th, 2015, Fourth Sunday of Advent: “Mary Visits Elizabeth”
Luke 1: 39-45
Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
In reading this gospel, I am going to resist my first inclination to dwell on Mary’s charity in going to help her cousin Elizabeth through pregnancy in her advanced age. This is acknowledged in the second joyful mystery of the rosary and certainly is a proper Advent focus, to look to help others as we wait for Christ’s coming at Christmas. However, on re-reading I am struck by the combined effect of Mary’s arrival on both Elizabeth and her unborn child, John the Baptist. Both react to the presence of Christ in their midst. Elizabeth, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” shouts the lines we recognize from the Hail Mary prayer, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (41-42). Then she shares John’s reaction in the womb is to leap for joy (44).
How did they know? How did they not only sense the presence of our Lord, but then react with joy rather than surprise or fear as the apostles do in Christ’s transfiguration? Elizabeth must have lived with a sense of expectation that the Messiah was coming. Her sense of expectation must have increased when God blessed Zechariah and her with a child after many long years of barrenness, heightened to the degree that her child in the womb shared that expectation. This is the state of mind we are trying to foster in Advent, isn’t it? If we expect Jesus to come at any moment, walk through our front door as Mary does, won’t we too be moved to joy immediately when He comes. Of course this doesn’t just prepare us for the second coming of Jesus, but for every encounter with Him in our daily lives. He is present in the people from all walks of life that cross our path daily. This is especially true of those who need our help, and who we go to help with the charity exemplified by Mary in her visit to Elizabeth. However, it is also true of those who try to help us. I think about how often I refuse the help of others out of pride rather than receive it with joy as Elizabeth does. Those who genuinely wish to help are carrying Christ’s love in their hearts as Mary did the Incarnate Word in her womb. A joy-filled life is available year around if we just expect Christ to arrive in our lives through those God sends our way each day. If we look for Jesus in others, we will find Him.