4th Sunday of Advent 2013 – God will come as a saviour…
Fourth Sunday of Advent Year C – Lectio divina on Lk 1,39-45
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, more needy 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?
39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah,
40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the child leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit
42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!
43 And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
44 For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the child in my womb leaped for joy.
45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
I Read: understand what the text says, 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, that of John (Lk 1, 5-25) and that of Jesus (Lk 1:26-38), and 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. Anyone who thinks that waiting for God can make him indifferent to this world and its problems, and insensitive to the needs of others, is not waiting for the God that was born of Mary, nor is he 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 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.