4th Sunday of Advent – 20 December 2015

"Among your earthiest words the angels stray"

Scripture Reading – Luke 1:39-44

Mary set out and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’

Gospel reading – Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com

REFLECTION

“Among your earthiest words the angels stray” Patrick Kavangh

by Sr Bridget O’Connell FMA

These days we are celebrating the winter solstice. The passage grave in the world historical site in Newgrange Co Meath was constructed five thousand years ago. The people who built it were preoccupied with winter, darkness and death. Above the entrance to this passage there is a small opening through which the sun shines during the winter solstice and its rays penetrate some 50 feet into the dark inner chambers. What they built was a reminder that in the darkest of corners light will always shine.

Darkening skies, longer nights announce the winter. For a child it’s a time for Santa, a time to look forward to opening the Christmas gifts, a time to enjoy a stroll in a Christmas lit city street or a time of wishing for a white Christmas
There can be a special energy in mid-winter but as adults we need reminders of the richness in this time of year.

Today’s Gospel gives us Mary as a reminder of the true meaning of Advent and Christmas.
While we are waiting for the celebration of the birth of Christ on Christmas day, Mary is like the light that shines in the darkest corner of the Newgrange chamber. She invites us to pause in the darkness of this wintertime and to focus not on herself but on her inner chamber where she carries Christ. The Gospel tells the story of Mary visiting Elizabeth her cousin. She had set out on a long journey and when the cousins met, immediately the child that Elizabeth was carrying recognised Jesus.
This moment is summed up so beautifully in the poem by Ruth Mary Fox called

“Carrying Christ”
Into the hillside country Mary went
Carrying Christ, and all along the road
The Christ she carried generously bestowed His grace on those she met,
She had not meant to tell she carried Christ.
She was content to hide his love for her.
But about her glowed such joy that into stony hearts love flowed,
And even to the unborn John Christ’s grace was sent.

The response to the psalm today could be Mary’s prayer for us and our own prayer as we contemplate this special moment:

God of hosts bring us back, let your face shine on us and we shall be saved.

Our Liturgy today is inviting us back, back to rediscover God living among us whatever our circumstances may be now. The reading from the Old Testament shows us Bethlehem the most ordinary of places but here Jesus will be born in poverty. Relatives visiting, people coming home, people without a home are all part of Christmas– and here, as it was for Mary and Elizabeth is where we find God.
Mary’s visit to Judea and later her going to Bethlehem celebrate the God who is faithful to the poor and to those who reach out to others.
In the words of Patrick Kavanagh about his mother, Mary reminds us:

“Among your earthiest words the angels stray”

INTRODUCTION TO LECTIO DIVINA

We are close to Christmas. To help us to prepare better for a joyous celebration of the coming of God in our midst, the gospel focuses our attention on Mary, the mother of Jesus. She alone carried the living God in her womb, flesh of her flesh, as she waited for his coming. When she had given birth, she held him in her arms. We are waiting now for the Lord to be present, at last, in our world. We recall with joy how he wishes to be with us. The Word of God today reminds us of Mary and how she prepared for his coming. She was the virgin who was expecting a child, but she immediately set about serving another woman in greater need than herself, who was undergoing the same experience. Who better than Mary to teach us how we should wait for God, what we should do while waiting, and what to do when he comes? Who better than Mary to teach us how to wait for him and how to receive him?

LECTIO DIVINA

I. Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it

The visit of Mary to Elizabeth (Lk 1,39-56) connects the two predictions of birth that were previously reported separately, the birth of John (Lk 1, 5-25) and that of Jesus (Lk 1:26-38). Mary’s visit makes it possible for the prophet to meet his Lord even before they were born. When the angel announced the extraordinary conception of the two infants, he revealed God’s plan of salvation. The unthinkable was made possible by God. Now Luke allows the two mothers to speak. They did not ask for it, but they have become the beneficiaries and witnesses of the salvation wrought by God.

The evangelist intended the account of the meeting of Mary, the Mother of our Saviour, with Elizabeth, mother of the precursor, as evidence of the superiority of Jesus over the Baptist. Mary is the central character, not because of what she does, but because of what is done in her. This is recognised by Elizabeth. The meeting, of which today’s passage reports only a part, opens and closes with Mary (Lk 1, 39.56). Elizabeth’s intervention (Lk 1, 41), prompted by Mary’s arrival (Lk 1, 40), serves only to reveal God’s action in Mary (Lk 1, 42-45). It prompts Mary to praise God. For the first time, she expresses publicly her personal reaction to her virginal motherhood (Lk 1, 46-56).

Elizabeth recognises that the arrival of Mary has filled her womb with life and filled her life with the Spirit, that same Spirit which had made a virgin become a mother. Elizabeth notes God’s action in her own motherhood, which was already visible. She owes everything to the one who dared to believe in her Lord, because everything started when the virgin mother arrived. The first beatitude of the New Testament was addressed to Mary, not because she was the mother of the Son of God, but because she had become the servant of her God. She became mother of God because she believed in His Word. Any believer who dares to trust God as Mary did, can become a member of God’s family as she did, and can become for others an occasion of grace and a reason for joy. Anyone who allows God to enter his or her life can bring God into the lives of others.

II. Meditate:  apply what the text says to life

Once Mary had accepted God’s plan for her life and declared herself his servant, she began to be his mother. She then set out immediately to become the servant of her cousin Elizabeth who needed her help. The first thing she did, as soon as she conceived God in her womb, was to go in haste to the home of another woman who was to become a mother before her.

The mother of God began her own motherhood by looking after an older relative as she prepared for motherhood. Mary did not wait for God peacefully, alone, with her arms folded, with no concern for other less important mothers. She knew that the child she was carrying in her womb was, in reality, the only Son of God, but she did not regard this as a personal privilege, nor did she use it as a pretext to avoid serving her cousin. She knew she had God within her, but that did not make her feel free from the duty to serve her cousin. Precisely because God was becoming a child in her womb, she felt obliged to put herself at the service of another woman who was about to become the mother of another child who was, like her own child, soon to be born. Mary lived her time of waiting doing good to another woman who, like herself, was hoping to become a mother by the grace of God.

The mother of God began her period of pregnancy by helping her cousin. She spent her time of waiting for her firstborn in the service of her neighbour. Mary teaches us that the proper way to wait for God is to come to the help of those who need our help. This is the ‘Marian way’ to prepare for Christmas. This is why, however much we desire God in our hearts, we can never have him in our hands. In Mary we see that waiting for God can never become an idle pastime. She teaches us that the way to wait for God is by doing good to our neighbour. Mary’s journey through the mountains and her haste to arrive at the house of Elizabeth make her time of waiting all the more graphic and concrete, more real and painful.

She was not satisfied just to know that the child she was expecting was to be the Son of God. Mary knew no other way to wait for God than by helping her elderly relative. She knew no other way to serve God than by serving another woman who was expecting a child. There is no better way to wait for God than by serving someone else who is waiting for him. Taking care of our neighbour’s needs is the best way, if not the only way, of caring for the God who is coming. Those who think that waiting for God can make them indifferent to this world and its problems, and insensitive to the needs of others, are not waiting for the God that was born of Mary, nor are they preparing worthily to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

And yet, is it not true that we who are waiting for God at the present time, live our lives weighed down by worries that preoccupy us more than our difficulties in faith? Is it not true that we are waiting for God only to free us from our worries, without realizing that the only right way to wait for God is by drawing near to the needs of others? Do we think that somehow we are free from the obligation to spend our time of waiting, reaching out with hearts and hands to the anxieties and needs of others? Maybe we are used to preparing for Christmas by drawing up a list of the things we need, and of the people we miss if they happen to be far away, instead of seeing that there are many things we could give to others, and many people we could help.

Believers often give up hope of meeting God. Even among those who are preparing now to receive God this Christmas, there are few who really believe that God will allow us to meet him, that he will come to stay in our families, and that we will encounter him in the intimacy of our hearts. But we should not blame God if we do not believe that all this is possible. We do not wait for him in the way he wants us to wait, in the way Mary waited for him, devoting ourselves body and soul to the service of others. This is the reason why we do not meet him. We run the risk that, even for us who believe in God made man, the season of Christmas will consist of wasted days, and empty joy – a family feast that fails to make us members of God’s family. All this may befall us if we do not wait for God the way he wants us to wait, the way Mary did, serving the neighbour who needs our help.

We will have no excuse if, once again, Christmas does not turn out to be a unique and special experience. We still have time before his coming, to make ourselves available to the people who need our help. We desire to meet him – let’s make sure it happens by taking care of the people who need our help. That is what Mary did and that is how she became the Mother of God. There is no point in complaining. God wants to become our God this Christmas. He wants to enter our little world and become part of our family. If he does not succeed this year, it will not be because he did not try. It will be because, once again, he has found us waiting as we have always done, but has not found us working for the good of our neighbour in need.

If God finds us preoccupied with ourselves, he will not meet us this year either. Let’s not forget the lesson taught us by Mary, the Mother of God. When she knew she was waiting for God, she set out in haste to the neighbour who needed her. Serving our neighbour in need is the proper way to wait for God. If God does not find us at the service of our neighbour in need, he will not want to meet us. Servants are of little use if they are not where their master wants them. While he is not with them, the servants of God should be looking after the people who need them. Mary became the servant of Elizabeth, and was recognised by her as Mother of her Saviour. There is no other way to be with God in this world than by serving a neighbour in need. There is no other way we can bring joy and life, and the Lord himself, into our world.

Before Jesus was born and came, not to be served but to serve, his Mother became the servant of her relative in need. The only way to live as we await his coming is by serving our neighbour. This was Mary’s way. This is our opportunity to prepare for the coming of Jesus by bringing God and bringing life to the people we serve.

PRAYER

Lord, open our hearts to your grace.
Through the angel’s message to Mary
we have learned to believe in the incarnation of Christ your Son:
lead us by his passion and cross
to the glory of his resurrection.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

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Music:
“Frozen Star” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)

Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 – http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

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