FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT (2018)
Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
The joy of last Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, overflows into this Fourth Sunday of Advent in the persons of Mary and Elizabeth. In spite of being “with child,” Mary hastily travels to be with her cousin who, in spite of being elderly and thought to be barren, is also expecting a child. Traveling anywhere was not easy or safe, but traveling into the “hill country” had to have been particularly challenging for a young pregnant woman. There appears to be a sense of urgency to Mary’s journey, or perhaps it is just her overwhelming desire to celebrate their mutual good fortune and be of some assistance to her older cousin that compelled her to make the visit. Whatever the reason, Luke’s account of their encounter affords the Evangelist the opportunity to highlight Advent themes of joy and divine promises fulfilled.
Luke’s focus on prayer, women, and concern for the poor distinguishes him from his fellow evangelists. Luke loves to tell a story, as his entire infancy narrative demonstrates, and his account of the Visitation in today’s gospel portrays Mary as a model of fidelity to God and to God’s word. Mary, already assenting positively to the angel’s announcement that she will become the mother of the Messiah, visits her cousin Elizabeth, who will soon give birth to John the Baptist. As if to acknowledge the presence of the Messiah, John the Baptist leaps for joy in the womb, and Elizabeth “in a loud voice” proclaims the superior status of Mary’s son and of Mary herself as the “mother of my Lord.” Furthermore, Elizabeth characterizes Mary’s greatness in terms of her fidelity: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
Mary prefigures in her life the obedience of her Son who embraced the cross in order that God’s plan for our salvation might be fulfilled. In spite of being “troubled” by the message of the angel, Mary generously cooperated with God’s will: “May it be done to me according to your word.” Mary’s generosity is also demonstrated in her “haste” to respond to the angel’s message that her cousin Elizabeth was expecting. In being faithful, Mary further brings to fruition God’s plan for the salvation of all people.
We should be struck by the ordinariness of the people of Luke’s infancy narrative. Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, and Joseph, were not people of great stature or important lineage, yet their cooperation with God’s grace enables them to be key players in God’s plan. Because they were convinced that God has “done great things for them,” they were able to accomplish great things by being faithful.
Our Fourth Sunday of Advent liturgy places us on the threshold of Christmas where we can see the mystery of the Incarnation unfold. As ordinary people, like Mary and Elizabeth, Zechariah and Joseph, we should be encouraged to be faithful, knowing that God can accomplish great things through us. Our God has been faithful to us, sending His Son into our world that we might be shown the way back to God. It is our task to be steadfast and faithful to God. Standing on the threshold of Christmas, may we never fail to realize that the radiance of God can shine forth through faithfulness in the ordinary events of life.