THE VISITATION OF MARY
Mic 5:1-4; Heb 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45
Today is the 4th Sunday of Advent. Within the Advent journey to Christmas, the Fourth Sunday belongs to Mary. Today’s gospel (Luke 1:39-45), tells us what happened after Mary was told that she was to have a Virgin-born child who would become the Messiah, and also learnt from the angel, Gabriel, about Elizabeth’s startling pregnancy.
- MARY VISITS ELIZABETH
Mary got ready and hurried to the town and home of Elizabeth. We do not know where Zechariah and Elizabeth lived. Traditionally a town named “Ein Kerem” which is near Jerusalem has been identified as the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth. If that is the case, it would have been about a 100 mile trip for Mary from Nazareth, lasting about a week. We recall that there were no cell phones, e-mail, faxes or any other ways to communicate quickly over a long distance. So, the visit of Mary was likely a surprise to Elizabeth and her husband, Zechariah. When Mary arrived, Elizabeth greeted her warmly. She opened her home to Mary.
These two pregnant women were full of joy and concern for one another. Mary surely went to visit Elizabeth because of her advanced age and because of the attendant dangers of a pregnancy so late in life. This solicitude is a clear sign of Mary’s goodness. It is also likely that Mary went to see Elizabeth to verify what the angel had told her. The angel pointed to Elizabeth as proof that nothing is impossible for God. (Lk1:37). She may have gone to see Elizabeth because she needed to be with someone who understood what she was going through. There are not many people who can understand what it means to be specially chosen by God to bear a child. Elizabeth was one of those people.
- THE TESTIMONY OF ELIZABETH
When Mary arrived at the home of Elizabeth she immediately received the verification she needed. We are told that when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In other words, God’s Spirit entered into her so she could prophesy. We are that told she spoke in a “loud voice” and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” (Luke 3:43-45).
Elizabeth took this as a sign that her baby recognized and responded to the child that Mary was carrying. She affirmed that Mary would be mother to the Messiah. In her mind, her six-month old fetus was acknowledging the Lordship of the one who was a mere zygote in the womb of Mary. Imagine how this encouraged Mary! Mary trusted God but she must have felt very much alone. Mary stayed with Elizabeth until or very close to the birth of John (the Baptist).
Our Catholic “Hail Mary” which begins with “Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed are thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” is based on the angel’s words to Mary and these words of Elizabeth. The song, “Ave Maria” (Latin for “Hail Mary”) also has its origin here. It is important to see that Mary is being honoured because of the honour that has been given her to bear the Messiah. Mary is worthy of honour for her willing faithfulness before the hand of the Lord.
- MARY, THE MOTHER OF GOD
After the serpent had led Adam and Eve into sin in the Garden of Eden, God cursed the serpent. Among others, he said that the offspring of the woman would crush the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15). This text is referred to as the first proclamation of the Good News of salvation (Protoevangelium). The prophet Isaiah would later speak of a young woman who would conceive and bear a son, and name him Immanuel, a name which means “God-with-us” (Is 7:17). After him, the prophet Micah would speak of a woman in labour, who would bring forth a child (Mic 5:3). The Israelites understood this offspring or son in all these texts to refer to the Messiah, who would later be their saviour and the saviour of all mankind. According to St. Paul, “when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5). The woman is none other than the one in the Protoevangelium, whom Isaiah and Micah prophesied about: Mary the Mother of Jesus. She is the very one to whom the angel, Gabriel, announced the birth of a son. She is the same one who goes visiting Elizabeth in her sixth month of pregnancy.
Through the influence of the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth recognizes that Mary is the mother of Christ. Elizabeth is the first to proclaim with authentic devotion and love our Lady’s greatest title, “MOTHER OF MY LORD”. Mary is Mother of God. Called in the Gospels “the mother of Jesus”, Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as “the mother of my Lord.” (Lk 1:43; Jn 2:1; 19:25; cf. Mt 13:55.) In fact, the One whom Mary conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father’s eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly “Mother of God” (Theotokos). (Council of Ephesus (431); DS 251.) (CCC 495).
Mary, herself believed that the child that she was carrying has come as a fulfilment of a promise which God made long ago. In the Magnificat, in which Mary praises and gives thanks to God for all the marvels that he has done for her, Mary praises God for doing “AS HE SAID (promised) TO OUR FATHERS”. “He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.” (Luke 3:55). Mary understood that the birth of her child was the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel. He had promised a Redeemer. Now that Redeemer had come. Mary is the mother of that Redeemer, who is God the Son.
- THE SANCTITY OF, AND RESPECT FOR, HUMAM LIFE
The Church takes most its position on the life-issues such as, human conception, the beginning of human life, and abortion, from the text of today’s gospel. At the time when Mary visited Elizabeth, it must have been barely 10 days or so from the day of the annunciation. Mary’s pregnancy was in no way visible. At the time, Jesus was hardly the size of a pinhead and had only been just implanted into the lining of Mary’s womb. Elizabeth had not been told of her cousin’s pregnancy either. Yet, prompted by the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth shouted “Blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honored with a visit from the mother of my Lord?” Elizabeth was moved to call the child yet to be born: “MY LORD“. She was inspired to realize that in the early days of her pregnancy, Mary was already carrying the person of the God-Man Jesus, not some “PERSONLESS TISSUE”, as abortionists would like to call it.
Furthermore, in response to Mary’s salutation, Elizabeth said, “For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy.” Her baby was of course John. He would be known to history as John the Baptizer (the Baptist). Thus, John himself, already a person, salutes not merely a ten-day old “personless embryo” but another genuine person. Today’s Gospel is telling us through Elizabeth and her unborn son that human life, “alive, distinct in sex, and complete,” is present in every mother’s womb from the beginning of her pregnancy. The visit of the Christ to Elizabeth in the early days of his development is a far greater witness to the sanctity of human life than all of the scientific facts and pictures that one can conjure up.
Therefore, the Church concludes that every abortion is the killing of a living, complete, human being. Jesus clearly teaches us that abortion is wrong by the decisive facts of his early days in Mary’s womb. The Church is clear that although infants die by chance, they should never die by choice!
- GOD KEEPS HIS PROMISE ALWAYS
In today’s gospel, we see God fulfilling his promise. He did it in such a way that no one could question that it was God who was acting. He used a barren (and post-menopausal) woman and a virgin mother. Only God could make such things to happen. God is faithful to his Word. Sometimes the promises seem long in coming (like the promise of his second coming). Sometimes the promises are fulfilled in ways that we do not expect (everyone expected Jesus to be a political leader). However, God keeps his Word. He is able to do as he said, and he is faithful to accomplish all that he has promised.
As we face another Christmas, let us be encouraged by God’s record in being faithful to his promises. At times of grief and loss in our families and in our personal lives, let us be reminded that those who die in the Lord will live again. Our emptiness and loss may be great, but they are temporary. When life is hard, we are called to remember that everything that happens in the life of the true believer will be used to accomplish God’s purpose in our lives. Those who feel alone and abandoned can draw courage from the fact that God promised that he would never abandon us or forsake his own (cf. Is 49:15-15). Those who feel that they have strayed too far away from the Lord’s love need to remind themselves that God has promised that whoever will call on his name shall be saved, regardless of the magnitude of their sins. Indeed, we can rest assured God’s promises never fail. As he brought the promised Redeemer to Bethlehem, in the same manner, will bring Christ back a second time. We may not know when that will happen but we can be confident that it WILL happen.
- MARY WENT “IN HASTE”
Pope Benedict, in his sermon on 4th Sunday of Advent 2012 (December 23, 2012), noted that when Mary, already pregnant with Jesus, went to visit her kinswoman, Elizabeth, she did so “in haste.”. The Holy Father further points out that the shepherds also made haste, when they heard about Jesus birth. He asks: “How many Christians make haste today, where the things of God are concerned? Surely if anything merits haste – so the evangelist is discreetly telling us – then it is the things of God.” Pope Benedict is indicating one of the main problems of our modern world. We are busy – sometimes even feverishly busy – but when it comes to the “things of God” we tend to be lazy. Right before Christmas, we are busy about many things, but do we show such franticness when it comes to things of God?
This laziness in things of God is called SLOTH. From Christian theology, we learn that sloth is one of the seven deadly sins, which include: pride, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, sloth, and anger. Sloth is one of the most difficult sins to define, since it refers to a peculiar jumble of notions, including mental, spiritual, pathological, and physical states. Sloth actually embodies:
- Carelessness: All human beings need rest, but when sloth is present, rest turns into negligence that affects one’s relationship with God, one family—wife/husband, children – and even one’s job.
- An unwillingness to act that lures one to procrastination, putting things off until it becomes practically impossible to finish what one needs to do on time.
- Doing everything with a half-hearted effort: Much of the problem with half-hearted effort is not because one is lazy, but because one fails to prioritizing, the inability to say no!
- Discouragement in the face of every difficulty: Life is full of difficulties that must be faced. Sloth makes one to be slow or unable to resolved to work through these difficult circumstances.
Thomas Aquinas calls sloth “THE NOON DAY DEVIL” (the devil at noon). You know, it is a hot day at noon and you just had your lunch and all you want to do is yawn and take a nap. Sloth is sluggishness for spiritual things. One cannot muster any energy, interest or enthusiasm for the things of the spirit (Going late for Mass, putting off receiving the sacrament of confession, skipping devotional prayer such as novena, etc.). Here, sloth is boredom, depression and inactivity at the spiritual level of life. Let us ask Mary’s intercession that, regarding the things of God, we might overcome sloth and laziness, so that we might make haste to encounter the only one who can save us: the newborn King, Jesus the Lord. Amen.