for the 4th Sunday of Advent
Dec. 20, 2009
Luke 1: 39-45
Willow Towers, New Rochelle
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison
“Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste” (Luke 1: 39).
On the last 2 Sundays we’ve heard the preaching of John the Baptist: prepare for the coming of the Messiah. In today’s gospel he comes, borne in Mary’s womb as she visits her elderly kinswoman Elizabeth. John the Baptist still figures in the reading—even in his own mother’s womb he recognizes the presence of the Savior in Mary’s womb and leaps with joy.
But the gospel no longer centers on John. Now our attention goes to Mary, who will bring the Messiah to us; Mary, who provides for God’s Son a human body so that, as our 2d reading said, God the Father might prepare for his Son a body to be offered as the ultimate sacrifice pleasing to God for the redemption of the world (Heb 10:5,10).
When Mary comes to Elizabeth’s home in the hill country of Judea—a good, long walk from her home in Nazareth—Elizabeth prophesies, i.e., speaks God-inspired words. For she recognizes the presence of God, of “my Lord,” within Mary: “Blessed is the fruit of your womb! How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:42-43).
As an aside, note that phrase “Blessed is the fruit of your womb,” which the Church incorporates, along with other scriptural phrases, in our favorite prayer, the Hail Mary. So many of our prayers are soaked in the Bible, and we hardly realize it.
Elizabeth continues her prophecy by exclaiming, “Blessed are you who believed that what the Lord spoke to you would be fulfilled” (1:45). Not only is Mary’s child blessed, for he is the Lord, but the mother, too, is blessed—our Blessed Mother. Why? Because she believed God’s word. Not because she’s Jesus’ mother, but because she believed. Without believing, she couldn’t have become his mother. Without her believing, God’s plan as we know it couldn’t have unfolded.
This isn’t to say that God wouldn’t have done something else for our salvation, but to say that Mary cooperated with this plan thru her faith, a faith with real-life consequences.
For Mary’s belief in God’s word meant that she said “yes” to the message of the angel Gabriel; the verse with our “Alleluia” today quoted her words: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Faith begins in our minds or our hearts, but it has to carry into our wills, our decisions, our words, our actions. Without a “yes,” Mary’s faith would’ve been meaningless, and there’d have been no incarnation of the Son of God, no redemption of the human race. When Mary said “yes” to God, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14), the eternal Son of God became the human being Jesus Christ our Savior, to be born in time, to die on a cross, to raise us up to God’s grace and immortal life—that divine plan recalled in our Opening Prayer (which, some of you may have noticed, was a variation on the prayer that concludes the Angelus): “lead us thru his suffering and death to the glory of his resurrection.”
Here is where we’re called to be blessed, like Mary: in our faith. We can’t conceive God’s Son physically within our bodies. But we can say “yes” to God’s will for our lives. Angels don’t come to us to ask us to undertake extraordinary roles in the plan of salvation. But God speaks to us in the Sacred Scriptures that we read—daily, if possible; in the teachings of Christ’s Catholic Church; in the daily events of our lives, both good and bad. God is constantly revealing his will to us, his hopes for us, his love for us, and asking us to respond with faith and then action, like our Blessed Mother.
For instance, God asks us to believe that our families and the people we live with are his children, and we should treat them with kindness, patience, and respect, should help them when we can, should safeguard their reputations by how we speak of them. God asks us to believe that everyone on this planet is his child, and we should support public policies that respect the life and dignity of everyone, and hold our public servants accountable for such policies, and vote for candidates who support human life and dignity. God asks us to believe that he cares about us, and we should read his word, ponder his word, pray to him, thank him, praise him. God asks us to believe that his Son rose from the dead, and thus illness and death are not to be feared but to be withstood and resisted as far as we may reasonably do so, and then accepted as transition stages to the immortal life that comes us thru Mary’s Son: thru suffering and death to the glory of resurrection. Blessed are all who believe that what the Lord has spoken to them will be fulfilled (cf. 1:45)!