Fourth Sunday of Advent C: December 19, 2021
LK 1: 39-45
By Rev. John Tran
The readings today move from the life of an ordinary, hidden man in the desert, John, becoming the one who announces the messiah's coming, to an ordinary woman, Mary, becoming the mother of this Messiah. These two remind us that the mystery of the Incarnation comes to ordinary people living ordinary lives, who have the openness to do God’s will and the willingness to respond to God’s call. Today’s readings suggest that we should not celebrate Christmas as just an occasion for nice feelings. Instead, commemorating Jesus’ birth should inspire us to carry out God’s word as John, Mary and Jesus did, in perfect, loving obedience to the Father's will, with the cheerful kindness and unselfish generosity that will help make us true disciples.
In today’s Gospel, Luke shows us a picture of Mary and Elizabeth who have a strong bond as relatives and friends. We can think of the visit of Mary to Elizabeth as a younger relative coming to help an older cousin who is to have a baby in her old age - something very unexpected. So Mary not only has said yes to God in becoming the mother of his only Son, but she continues to serve while awaiting his birth by giving comfort and help to her cousin.
But that is only half the story. Mary is not only giving comfort and help to an older cousin, but she is receiving comfort and help from Elizabeth. Remember Mary’s confusion at becoming a mother and not being married yet? Think of what it took of her to say ‘yes.’ No doubt people were saying unkind things about her which she had to bear. Elizabeth was someone Mary could talk to, confide in, and receive comfort from because Elizabeth understood how God could intervene in a person’s life in a way that others would not understand. Elizabeth knew what was going on and could share this burden with Mary.
Elizabeth greeted Mary with, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” What does it mean to be blessed? Some who knew Mary might have thought she was not blessed at all. After all, she was pregnant under what seemed suspicious circumstances, and she was most likely gossiped about and shunned. But Mary’ blessedness had to do with something deeper, with having a heart that was open to God and to God’s mysterious ways.
In the Bible, the word “blessed” is sometimes translated as ‘happy.’ We tend to associate happiness with very superficial things; however, the biblical association of blessedness with happiness offers us a more meaningful understanding of both words. To be chosen by God so often means that at one and the same time, a crown of joy and cross of sorrow. The piercing truth is that God does not choose a person for ease and comfort and selfish joy, but for a job that will take all the head and heart and hand we can bring to it. Mary could not have only the joy and blessedness of bring the savior into the world, but she also had the sword piercing her heart that would some day mean seeing her Son hanging on the Cross. Someone has said, “Jesus Christ came not to make life easy, but to make people great.” We always have the chance to being ‘great’ with God in us, just like Mary did.
We are also blessed, like Mary, when we believe that God’s promises to us will be fulfilled. As we approach Christmas, let us treasure and draw strength from the most comforting of all promises, that God is Emmanuel, ‘God with us.’ We may have ups and downs in the trials and joys of our lives and relationships, but God is always with us. Our awareness of this can be a source of the most profound happiness. Blessed are we who believe and live out our lives with this assurance. During this week, we remember the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. What visitations are presented to us on a regular basis that we pass by without noticing; if we did perceive them, we could give comfort to someone, and who knows, we might receive and unlooked for comfort ourselves.