So as to be more available to the Advent graces contained in
our readings, we might imagine Mary leaving her home and heading for her
cousin Elizabeth’s house. She has had a strange visitor whose message/invitation
have called her past her fears to this journey of faith.
Perhaps she stops to rest and revisit. She looks up into the
sky and wonders if she were dreaming or did it all really happen. She ponders
whether or not she should continue and see if her cousin is really pregnant
as her visitor had said. “What if that isn’t true; what if it is!!!”
We pray simply for the grace of receptivity. It is better to give than receive
if you are God. It is better to receive than give if you are human. We can
pray for the emptiness, the incompleteness, the openness, which are necessary
for God’s annunciations and promises to fill us.
Advent, liturgically, takes four weeks, but spiritually it can
take but a flash of sensitivity when we sense that we are as little as Bethlehem,
as empty as a stable, and receptive as a pregnant girl of faith in Nazareth.
If there is no room in the inn, then Christmas will be a holiday, not a holy
day. We pray with any image or object which speaks of reception; a glass,
the hollow space of the Advent Wreath, the softness of our up-turned hands.
David was the great king of Israel who ruled with power and justice. It seemed
that Israel would prosper forever and all nations would see her and reverence
her God. With the eventual decline and infidelities of God’s chosen people,
Jerusalem fell into foreign hands and Israel was led into the darkness of
Michah, from whom we hear in the First Reading, has been foretelling this
apparent abandonment of Israel by God. What we hear are verses of great hope
that the greatness of David’s time and lineage will be born anew. The Lord
will “give them up”, but this birth from within the small realm of Bethlehem
will signal God’s fidelity to ancient promises.
The one to be born will be davidic-like in that he will be a shepherd to
his people, but” Now his greatness shall reach the ends of the earth; he
shall be peace.” The greatness that was the Jerusalem of David, will now
return again from the smallest place, Bethlehem, and move beyond and cover
the earth bringing Peace. This is a dramatic change in this prophesy.
Jerusalem, the great city, stood in siege and often had to defend itself
within its walls. Now with this prophecy, instead of military defenses and
defensiveness, there will be a greatness of peace going forth from Jerusalem
and Israel. The first three verses of the previous chapter speak of this
peaceful time and end with the startling words, “there will be no more training
for war.” It will all begin with the Almighty becoming powerless within the
smallest of places.
We are treated to a journey-story in two senses for our Gospel reading. There
is a foot-by-foot hastening by Mary to the house of her cousin. When she
arrives, Elizabeth, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, confirms Mary’s
spiritual journey of faith. All Mary had was a mysterious invitation, her
personal wondering, her faithful response and a waiting to see. Elizabeth’s
response to Mary’s greeting ends the first segment of both her journeys.
Mary stays with Elizabeth, but then has to return to let it all be done according
to the promise and Promiser.
As Mary makes her way towards Elizabeth’s house, she has no proof to fortify
the invitation and promise. She is young, her town is small, her faith tender.
She has only her memory by which to review and faith for her pre-view. She
might be going in haste to see if her cousin is pregnant and use this as
some evidence that she was not being tricked. That journey would be very
exciting in expectation. The journey back to her own home, I wonder what
her spirit was then. Having a child is a wonderful event to which to look
forward, but there were promises made that intensified the life after the
child’s birth. The visitor had not given Mary a “Mother’s Guide to “Messiah-Raising”.
The area around our eyes, ears, nose and mouth are extremely sensitive and
in a way, private. I have noticed that when offering a person something to
smell, for example, that person will take the object in her or his hands
and guide it towards their own nose. The same when offering something to
taste or view closely. We do this instinctively and protectively. To let
somebody else get so close to the vulnerable and private takes great trust.
Here then is Mary in the privacy of her own life. Here is a virgin girl whose
womb is most sacred to her as woman. Here is a fragile life whose own future
is being transformed through intimacy. The privacy of her ears have heard
an invitation; her mouth has voiced the truth of her questions and the words
of a hope-filled “yes”.
You and I are on similar journeys of faith, hope and a love which is meant
to spread out and extend the kingdom of peace. As with Jerusalem, Mary was
the place from which God’s presence would be revealed and extended. As with
Mary, our journeys begin and continue by our letting God invite, interrupt
and offer things for us to taste, smell, see, feel and especially hear. God
reverences our protectiveness and so is as gentle as angel’s wings.
“The virgin is with child and
shall bear a son, and she will call him Emmanuel.” Is. 7, 14