Tree lightings, decorated windows, advent wreaths, even the changing seasons help to underline the physical reality of the Christmas season. From most of our earliest memories, this a time of real anticipation—from lists for Santa to preparation for travel to the nearly unbearable wait for school vacation.
The infancy narrative in Luke and the first reactions to the news of Jesus’ impending birth show similar literal physical reactions. Just as Zechariah is troubled and struck dumb by news of his son’s forthcoming birth, so Mary is puzzled and becomes pregnant as a result of the message she receives. Unlike Zechariah, her acceptance and faith affirms her status; so much so that John the Baptist “leaps for joy” in his mother’s womb upon Mary’s arrival. Following this moment, Mary recites the beautiful early praise poem, The Magnificat: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord…”.
That leaping for joy and proclamation of the greatness of this moment is at the center of all of today’s reading. This is a time in which to celebrate. The pure poetry and passion of the Song of Songs with its refrain—“Arise, my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one, and come!”—reminds me that, along with Mary’s first new experiences, this is a time to make life new. Christmas is a time at which we celebrate a birth and all the unexpected promise of new life, new chance, and new opportunity.
Mary’s faith and Zechariah’s experience as a priest of the temple are similar in that they both have historical knowledge. They believe and know what has happened before and they have been reminded of the promises made to their people. Now, as the world is unfolding before them, they are enthusiastic, innocent, and (above all) filled with joy. May we all stand in the same way before the promise offered to us this season as we await that time when “flowers appear on the earth” (Sgs 2: 12).
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