4TH SUNDAY OF ADVENT – Year “C” (Luke 1:39-45)
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
We are in the final days of our Advent journey and this is the last Sunday in the series! Already four candles are lit. Since December 17th in our Advent season the daily readings shifted their focus of preparation from Christ’s Second Coming (in majesty) to Christ’s First Coming on Christmas. On this the last Sunday before Christmas, our Gospel reading prepares us to witness Christ's birth by showing us how Jesus was recognized as Israel's long-awaited Messiah even before his birth. The Gospel turns our attention from the ministry of John the Baptist to the events that preceded John the Baptist's birth. The story of John the Baptist and his parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah, are reported only in Luke's Gospel.
Our Gospel reading recalls Mary's actions after the annunciation of Jesus' birth by the angel Gabriel. She does something “in a haste” - she goes to visit Elizabeth, her cousin, who is also with child; and this action is significantly called “The Visitation”, the feast we celebrate on May 31st. Elizabeth greets Mary with full recognition of the fact that Mary’s call on her is far more than just a mere visit of a relative; and she is like: ‘Wow! Really? Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’ She is aware of the roles that they and their unborn children will play in God's plan for salvation. If we were to continue reading the verses that follow in Luke's Gospel, we would hear Mary’s response to Elizabeth's greeting with her song of praise, The Magnificat, a canticle that has become an essential part of the Church's evening prayer (vespers). It is a beautiful hymn of thanksgiving, glorifying God for choosing her to be the mother of His Son, as well as for His mercy "from generation until generations, to those who fear Him." But what was the purpose of Mary’s Visitation? Think about it.
As noted earlier Mary’s visit was far more than just a compassionate gesture to her cousin. It was a purposeful mission to bring divine grace to both Elizabeth and her unborn child. Our moms have certain experiences they cannot share with us men – the dramas of the unborn babies. All they tell us is their feeling of some pain or uncomfortable situation because of some movements inside them. But Elizabeth surprises even other moms on how she was able to tell the drama in her womb was because the baby John was happy!
John's leap was no ordinary movement of an unborn child, for as Elizabeth tells Mary, "as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy" (Luke 1:44). From the time of the early Church Fathers the Church has held that the joy of John the Baptist came from his cleansing at that moment of Original Sin and being filled with divine grace. Remember the angel Gabriel's prophecy to Zachary before John's conception was that "he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb". (Luke 1:15) The Catholic exegesis on St. John the Baptist holds that, "as the presence of any sin whatever is incompatible with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the soul, it follows therefore that at this moment John was cleansed from the stain of original sin". That’s why Mary went to the Hill Country of Elizabeth “in haste” to make sure that the mission to John the Baptist happens while he is still in his mother’s womb. Thus Mary, now for the first time, exercised her function as mediatrix between God and man.
Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and sings Mary's praise because she bears the Lord. Her words would become part of the chief Marian prayer, the Hail Mary: "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb." She then goes acknowledges her cousin Mary as "the mother of my Lord" (Lk 1:42-43).
When we think about the figure of Mary, the person of Mary, that we find in the Gospels, we find that she is a model for us in our discipleship. It is appropriate in this season of Advent that we consider the role of Mary in God's plan of salvation. Elizabeth describes Mary as the first disciple, as the one who believed that God's word to her would be fulfilled. Mary's faith enabled her to recognize the work of God in her people's history and in her own life. Her openness to God allowed God to work through her so that salvation might come to everyone. Because of this, Mary is a model and symbol of the Church. May we be like Mary, open and cooperative in God's plan for salvation.