Scripture Readings: Prophet Micah 5:1-4; Letter to the Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45
Christmas Day draws near, less than a week from now. People are shopping, cooking, cleaning, sending cards and gifts, and trying to breath a sigh of relief that maybe, just maybe, the worst of the covid crisis has passed.
We are very limited in our prediction of the future, of course, and can only hope and pray for the best. Despite the uncertainties of life surrounding us, we are called to carry on in faith and love and to believe that God is indeed “in control,” and desires that we be witnesses to hope.
On this closest Sunday to Christmas, the Scripture readings for Mass direct our attention to the theme of the coming Redeemer, whom we believe is Jesus Christ, true God and true man. He was born in time of a virgin mother, two thousand years ago, and grew in wisdom and stature over the course of time, leading up to his public ministry and ultimately to death on the Cross. After that, and most splendidly of all, Christ rose from the dead and opened the way to life immortal for the human race.
In the 1960s folk singers sang, “Where have all the flowers gone?”, lamenting the passing of familiar things, including not only flowers, but also young men, presumably going off to fight wars and who would die in the process. Not too uplifting a thought, but the questions linger: what is life all about, where are we headed and for what do we live?
These are questions that perhaps older people, like myself (now heading toward seventy), will more likely ponder than people half my age or less, but everyone needs to be cognizant that life is more than health, wealth, beauty and the accumulation of “things.” While life can certainly be enjoyed, we must not neglect the essential spiritual dimension, that goes beyond the material. For followers of Jesus, it is all about a relationship with the living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
At this time of year, the Church invites us to “prepare our hearts,” for the coming of Christ, who was born in Bethlehem, who will come again at the end of time, and who comes to us at each moment of our life, if we so allow, with open hearts and minds. The Sacraments of the Church, instituted by Christ, are the principal channels through which we come into contact with God, especially in Holy Communion and the Forgiveness of Sins.
The Gospel passage assigned to be read at Mass on this final Sunday of Advent, from the first chapter of Saint Luke, is the recounting of what is called “the Visitation,” when the Virgin Mary leaves the city of Nazareth and visits her kinswoman Elizabeth in the hill country of Judah, at a place called Ain Karim, where Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah lived.
Both Mary and Elizabeth are expecting a child, and the encounter of the two women is a tender moment of recognition of the great things that God alone can accomplish. Elizabeth will bear the “Forerunner of the Lord,” as Saint John the Baptist will be called, and Mary will bear of the Savior of the world. This joyful encounter of the two mothers-to-be is a chance to pause and ponder, not only on the great things God has done to save us, but also the great things that have occurred in our lives over the years or decades already, and whatever further surprises God has in store for us!
The Virgin Mary’s possesses deep faith, which Elizabeth recognizes when she declares: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” And furthermore: “Blessed is she who trusted that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled.” Mary’s open and total surrender to God is the kind of faith we should all aspire to as well, believing that God is active in our lives and has a plan for each of us, young and old and in between.
We can also say that Jesus’ conception, up until now hidden in silence in the womb of Mary, is revealed to Elizabeth, and ultimately to the entire world. Elizabeth can be considered the “forerunner” of the news of the birth of the Redeemer. In fact, though, Elizabeth herself explains that her unborn child, John the Baptist, has stirred in Elizabeth’s womb for joy. The word “stirred” is often, and perhaps better translated as, “leaped.” Even in the womb, John is jumping for joy, we might say. Both Elizabeth and John in her womb, recognize in whose presence they are, even before the birth of Jesus, and bear witness to the One who comes to save us all!
In the coming days we may be inundated with appointments, celebrations, reunions and the like, but may we never forget the “reason for the season,” and take time to ponder God’s presence in our lives and strive to cultivate a deeper appreciation for the great things God has done and will do for us as individuals, family, communities and nations.
A Merry and Blessed Christmas 2021 to all!
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB