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. As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.In a loud voice she exclaimed, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who believed that what our God said to her would be fulfilled!"
How do you express your joy? Do you clap your hands, laugh loudly, scream out, react to someone nearby with a face or gesture? In our Gospel today the infant John “leapt for joy”. To someone with a body image that is not good – such as I have had throughout my life – jumping for joy is NOT the way I would describe my reaction to happiness. To me, it seems a person who would jump for joy is a physical person, someone comfortable with his or her own body. But this was in a womb. John, in his mother’s womb expressed both an emotional and physical reaction, according to Luke.
Even though Luke is being very imaginative here, we always tend to ascribe what happens to some emotional reaction in babies. I am told that babies don’t laugh till they are a few months old – before that it is just gas. But we like to think they are laughing at us, and happy. Similarly Elizabeth experienced a jump in her womb and Luke ascribes it to John’s recognition of Jesus. Pretty far-fetched, but it captures beautifully the emotion and feeling of that meeting between the two pregnant women.
Luke provides the richest Gospel account of the pregnancy of Mary and the birth of Christ. In the twenty to thirty years after Mark’s Gospel which hadn’t mentioned anything about Christ until he was an adult, Luke combined or imagined many details to create the infancy account. If you have read the four Gospels, you know that they contain very different stories in the details about Christ’s birth. This is because they wanted to stress different things about Jesus and wanted to relate Jesus to Old Testament stories and traditions. Luke was no different. He read in the Torah, in Micah, as we do in the first reading today, that the savior would come from Bethlehem, so Jesus must have been born in Bethlehem. Whether that is an historical fact or not is beside the point. If he is the Savior then he fulfilled the Old Law and so the authors create details to point that out.
In the Gospel today Luke is setting up the eventual encounter between Jesus and John the Baptist. He may have been bothered by the fact that in Mark’s account Jesus got baptized and that might mean to some people that he had sin. By Luke’s time, the theological understanding of Christ was that he was sinless. So even in this early narrative Luke is setting us and the early Christians up to understand that John was a precursor of Christ, a prophet of Christ and was baptizing, as we saw last week, not for the remission of sins, but for repentance. It was only Jesus who could forgive sin.
In any case, we have a beautiful story told to us today. It is a little out of context so let’s bring back the context. We first meet Zechariah and Elizabeth, an old couple, who are childless. The angel Gabriel comes to Zechariah and tells him that he is going to have a son, but Zechariah refuses to believe it and loses his voice because of his disbelief until the son was born. Elizabeth gets pregnant and is thrilled because she saw her childlessness as a curse, but she decides to keep the pregnancy secret.
Mary, meanwhile, has her own secret. She has been told by an angel that she will conceive and bear a son, even though she is not married. She is told that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and she will conceive, making Jesus the actual Son of God – again a declaration of the theology which had early developed in the Church. We begin then today with the meeting of the two pregnant women. They did not know that each other was pregnant. But when they meet, the Holy Spirit comes upon Elizabeth as was foretold, and John leaps for joy, the Spirit letting Elizabeth know that Mary is also pregnant in a very special manner. “ Blessed are you among women and blest is the fruit of your womb.” Elizabeth was the first to speak the words which so many of us recite every day. We stop our reading at this point just before the incredibly beautiful prayer of Mary that we call the Magnificat.
We call the story we read today “The Visitation”. The word most used in this story is the word ‘blessed’ assigned to Mary three times. Many non-Catholics criticize us as worshipping Mary almost as a goddess, but the real reason she is universally admired and prayed to in the Catholic church is explained in this reading. Mary is blessed because she was the vessel that bore our savior, blessed because she had the faith enough to agree to God’s very strange and frightening happening to her, and not because she was or did anything in herself. She is honored because she is the mother of Christ and thus God.
In Luke, all of the movement is toward the future. The events of our redemption all really begin at the meeting of John and Jesus in the desert and so this early history is just setting us up for that event. Both women in the Gospel offered their bodies for God’s purpose. This is what ties the Gospel reading to the second reading today because just as Mary and Elizabeth offered their bodies, so did Jesus. Jesus, too, offered his body up for our salvation. We read in the Epistle to the Hebrews: Behold, I come to do your will. ”By this “will,” we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. To be blessed and to be consecrated have the same meaning. Through the body of Christ we ourselves have been blessed, just as Mary has been blessed, and we too are able to carry the body of Christ within us. The Incarnation can take place within us each time we go to communion.
In Advent we have been preparing ourselves to accept this Incarnation in us again. As the daylight became shorter in the last few months we were more and more in darkness, but starting today on this last Sunday of Advent, the daylight gets longer each day. How appropriate! Where is the darkness within us that needs light? Do we find ourselves jealous of others, do we have strong moments of anger or impatience? Are we blind to the feelings of others? We work in Advent to bring light to those places inside us so that we can let the Incarnation take place in us on Christmas Day. We need to be like Elizabeth and Mary and say ‘yes’ to his coming. We need to wait – the birth of a child takes a set amount of time, the people of Israel waited for a savior for a period of time. For the men here today, we need to imitate the courage of women in preparing ourselves for this child – how demanding a child can be on one’s ego, one’s privacy, and one’s plans for the future. It is even painful at times.
Hopefully, if we have waited and prepared ourselves well, if we have let the light in, something inside us will also leap for joy this Christmas, and we can celebrate the coming of our Savior 2012 with the same innocence and joy that Luke describes in his Good News today. And so, this is the Good News I also bring you today – Christ is coming. Let us ready ourselves through the Spirit to receive him.
St. Valentine Faith Community
Mass: 10AM Every Sunday
2670 Chandler Avenue
Suite 7 & 8
Las Vegas, NV 89120
702-523-8963 Rev Sue Provost, Pastor
"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)