A common experience, a shared expectancy, is presented in the narrative of Mary’s visitation with Elizabeth. Two mothers different in age, attached by blood, yet uniquely challenged by societal milieu are connected by their unrealised promised potential of their sons. Their meeting is the result of divine impartation and for purposes of affirmation. A redeeming of personhood and significance experienced by one considered less because of age and barrenness. The second, bothered and vulnerable to the unethical, yet permitted, cultural practices of devaluing of women, particularly the unattached.
The account records that Elizabeth’s child, later known as John, leaps for joy while in utero—a reverent response to being in the presence of the “sent one” for whom he serves as forerunner. The power of the Spirit is highlighted and transcends, marking a revival of prophetic activity. Such activity has been seemingly absent from the lived reality of persons during this period. This text captures the essence of the Advent season: the promise of something and someone that will not simply make life better—rather, the assurance of the Word incarnate, and of a life full of meaning, a promise of life lived and of life everlasting. Elizabeth’s prophetic encouragement and her respect for Mary’s sacred identity, “mother of my Lord,” and her recognition that Mary is “blessed” echoes across generations reminding us that those not named are also blessed.
So now, we who hear these words 2000 years later discover that they make good sense to us also. They remind us of what matters to God, what God requires of us. The prophet Micah reminds us of God's loving care. The writer of the Gospel brings before us a cherished story of the early Christian community that remembers two remarkable women who knew that strength and mercy and compassion for the poor sprang from God the Creator, a God of good promises.
In Micah 5:2-5a, we are reminded that even in times of despair, God has a plan to deliver us. With the nation’s capital under attack, God reassures the people of Israel that everything is going to be alright because help is on the way. Ironically, that help is going to come from a place that is home to “the least significant of Judah’s forces.” Bethlehem, which held little significance outside of being the birthplace of King David, would now give birth to a new king. One who will bring restoration and be known throughout the earth as the Prince of Peace.
When we have wronged another person, we often find ourselves reflecting on ways to make amends. Usually, a simple apology or act of repentance will suffice, but sometimes those displays cannot easily reverse the damage that was done. Jesus’s ultimate sacrifice has restored us into right relationship with God for good and I was moved by the following written recently in a letter by Father Casamento to the staff at a University. It rang full of truth worth noting for me.
He said; “Not surprisingly, the Christmas Day scripture readings do not mention shopping or any of the commercial mania generated by the “Christmas media”. Instead, we hear of Jesus being sent to be the light and life of the world so that we might become children of God. John the Baptist came to prepare the way to experience this light and life and gives an example by being one who points to Jesus. To live in the light and experience the divine life in our lives, we, like John, are called to make God the centre of our life.
This, of course, is easier said than done. Some of the more injurious images of God are images that see God as the one who never lets anything bad happen to us, or the image that portrays God as the one who gives us whatever we
want. And, finally, the image of God as the old man with a big stick who is just waiting to catch us doing something wrong. While these images may be laughable, for many of us, they operate in our life when we pray to pass the
exam we have not studied for, or when we believe we can do whatever we want and there will not be any consequences, or that God is intent on making our life miserable with the list of all the things we cannot do.
All of these beliefs cloud our vision of God, and we need to let go of them in order to experience the gift of Christmas, when we are once again reminded that it is the faith of the little child who goes about life without anger, prejudice, or blindness. This little child accepts God, people, and situations as they are, not as we would like them to be. The promise of Christmas is that God is there to be at our side, to be the light in our life.
In reflecting on these readings set for the Sunday before Christmas I am reminded that there are some things that are essential in life. Things which this story of Jesus coming into the world remind us of. So, let us then fill this season with compassion. Let us remember that God is not looking for external sacrifices from us but for obedience. And, let us remember the lowly and the poor and the oppressed as Mary's hymn – the Magnificat - reminds us to do.