Daily Reflection
December 21st, 2005

Tom Bannantine, S.J.

Nursing School
Click here for a photo of and information on this writer.

St. Peter Canisius, S.J.

Songs 2:8-14 or Zephaniah 3:14-18a
Psalm 33:2-3, 11-12, 20-21
Luke 1:39-45

I like to think of the Christmas story as made up of a number of smaller stories that are woven together to form a whole. In today's gospel reading we have one of those stories, the Visitation. St. Luke sets the story for us very well. The two women, Mary and Elizabeth, are the only persons present in the story, but the as yet unborn baby Jesus is very much a part of the story, as are the Holy Spirit and John the Baptist.

This story, as all the stories about Christ's birth, lends itself very well to our imagination. Medieval paintings of the Visitation help us to focus our imagination. We follow Mary as she proceeds on her journey south from Galilee to Judah. It is a much easier journey for Mary now early in her pregnancy than the later journey she would make with Joseph when the time of her delivery was upon her. Luke does not mention that anyone accompanied Mary on her journey. But, given Mary's young age and the length of the journey, it is reasonable to suppose that her parents would have arranged for someone to accompany Mary. Perhaps a maidservant or a family friend. They proceed to the hills of Judah near Jerusalem, to the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Luke has already told us that Elizabeth was advanced in years. Mary makes the journey rather than having Elizabeth journey to her out of deference to Elizabeth's age and seniority.

The arrival of Mary at Elizabeth's house is the occasion of the intervention of the Holy Spirit. At Mary's greeting to her, Elizabeth's baby - John the Baptist - leaps in her womb and the Holy Spirit reveals to her that Mary's baby is the long awaited savior. Elizabeth is probably the first person - after Mary and Joseph - to be favored with this knowledge. I don't think that we today can fully understand how momentous an announcement this was. For centuries the Jewish people had been promised by God that a savior would come, and for centuries the people had remembered that promise and waited expectantly. As time went on, the longing for the fulfillment of the promise grew. By the time of Mary and Elizabeth the longing had become very great. When it was revealed to Elizabeth that the long awaited promise was about to be fulfilled, it was truly a momentous occasion. Elizabeth was favored by God with advance knowledge of the wonderful things to come. She responded with great joy.

The joy that Elizabeth felt also caused her to have great humility. She realized that Mary, because of the child she was carrying, was due great respect and honor. She felt that she should show deference and respect to Mary, and she wondered aloud how it has happened that the mother of the Lord has come to visit an insignificant person like her. Elizabeth truly feels great humility in the presence of Mary, and praises her for her acceptance of God's will.

Luke wisely concludes the story here, and leaves the two women to visit privately. He has used the story to show how important a figure Elizabeth was in the Christmas story, and to further prepare us for the role of her son, John the Baptist .

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