By Sister Elizabeth Langmead, MHSH
Our readings this Fourth Sunday of Advent are a great reminder of how God uses the ordinary in extraordinary ways! The prophet Micah prophesizes that from small, ordinary, even insignificant Bethlehem will come one who is to be the ruler of Israel, and St. Paul reminds us that rather than desire extraordinary efforts by us, God desires us…our willingness to say, “Here I am, use me as you will.” Luke’s Gospel then shows that the one that seems insignificant, even barren some said, can be fruitful in ways unimaginable and the one who says “Let it be done to me according to your word” will bring forth the Good News of our salvation. In these two women reside “the Word made flesh” and the Voice who will herald that Word! Extraordinary, indeed!
Actually, our readings today give us the story of Christianity – our story – that was unfolding even before the birth of Christ – and at the center of this story are Elizabeth and Mary. Last Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, we were invited to rejoice for the Lord is in our midst; today we hear of a manifestation of that joy that comes from the presence of the Lord.
Mary teaches us that we are meant to bring Christ to others, and Elizabeth shows us that we are to welcome Christ and look for Christ in others. We are called today to experience the joy of this Visitation encounter; a joy that was conceived alone but came to fulfillment in relationship with the other. Often, that ordinary, unknown, seemingly insignificant other. Pope Francis in his first encyclical, “Lumen Fidei” (Light of Faith), highlights for us that “Persons always live in relationship. We come from others, and we belong to others, and our lives are enlarged by our encounter with others.”
So what can we take away from these readings that speak of relationship, of encounter? One suggestion might be to ask ourselves: How might we, like Mary, strive to be faithful, in our work, our relationships, our lives. How can we recognize that we, too, bear Christ? In the midst of our current times, how are we being called to recognize and welcome the Christ and how might we learn from Elizabeth’s patient waiting? How are we being invited to become and be used as instruments in spreading the message of hope and joy? Isn’t spreading joy with others what our Christmas gift giving, our visiting, our singing, our praying, and our traditions all about?
Mary’s journey to the Visitation comes with risks. She sets out and travels to the hill country, a difficult terrain, away from the comfort of home. How might her journey help us get in touch with our journey to Christmas; our journey to Christ?
Where are the rugged terrains of our lives, our neighbors, and our world? Might it be that as we journey to the Light of Christ, it is together that we name the darkness and learn how to live together so it doesn’t overcome us? When we recognize and name our inner poverty, our emptiness, our longing, our darkness then we ready ourselves to receive the light of Christ. Our Advent journey has been a time of waiting, of trusting that God is with us, and that God will continue to show us the way. Let us journey on praying to do so as Mary and Elizabeth have shown, in relationship, full of faith, hope, love and joy.