23 December 2018
A young man was told about an old woman living alone in his town and so he decided to visit her once a week. He would chat with her but mainly listen to her, as she liked to tell various events that happened in her past life. Some events he heard over and over again but he was very understanding knowing she needed a listening ear. She told him many times. “Paul, each time you visit me you make my day. I look forward so much to your visits.”
One could easily say of him that he was a bringer of peace and joy to this old lady. Much the same way that Mary was for Elizabeth in today’s gospel. Mary was always a bringer of peace and joy which are the fruits of the Holy Spirit that St.Paul writes about in Galatians 5.22.
In the Gospel of St John, chapter 2, we hear of Mary bringing peace and joy to the young married couple embarrassed by the shortage of wine; to the shepherds when they went to see what the angels told them and she showed Jesus to them. In a very real sense when Mary who carried Jesus within her in her pregnant condition as she visited her old cousin Elizabeth, she brought Jesus and as a result Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
The great Good News is that God thinks each of us has the capacity to bring Jesus to others in very ordinary ways. If we are waiting for God to come to us directly from heaven as so many seem to do, we may be waiting all our lives. But God does visit us in very ordinary daily events and through very ordinary people like you and me if we will allow him. We all have the capacity like Mary to be Christbearers though not in exactly the same and very powerful way that Mary had.
Any act or word of kindness to another that helps them feel better as a result, is a visitation by God who chooses to use us.
The visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, i.e. using human beings like ourselves, confirms our capacity to be vehicles of the Holy Spirit, bringers of peace and joy. It may be simply through a letter you write or a phone-call you make or an actual visit but it can mean so much to another. It may ‘make their day’ as the old lady said to the young man.
But sometimes it may cost a lot of effort to be a bringer of peace and joy. We may be inconvenienced or our own personal plans may have to be put aside as they were too for Mary. She had more or less a programme for her life in deciding to marry Joseph and live as many other young women of her day did. But the visitation of the angel changed all that. Her life would be severely disrupted at times to comply with God’s plans. In today’s gospel as soon as Mary heard that Elizabeth was pregnant she went ‘in haste’ to visit her. Her first concern was for her elderly cousin. It meant travelling from Nazareth to the hill country of Judah where Elizabeth lived. This was a distance of about 150 kilometres. Remember Mary herself was pregnant. There were no taxis, buses etc. It meant she had to go on foot most if not all the way. There would have been the risk of robbers in the hill country. So it did cost Mary much to be a bringer of peace and joy.
According to Elizabeth, Mary’s greatness comes from the fact that she believed that the promise made by the Lord would be fulfilled. Right through her life there were many events which could have caused her to doubt this, most of all as she saw her son humiliated and suffering on the way to Calvary and then hanging on a cross. But at Calvary Mary stood firm in her faith and outstared suffering and death. This surely is the challenge for us too. Can we continue to believe in spite of maybe tragedy, suffering and disappointments in our lives that the promise of God can be believed? Mary did and experienced the Risen Jesus. Our faith too has to become present in daily life as a message of hope in midst of discouragement. This is what believing in the child born of Mary means.
Like any pregnant women Mary and Elizabeth would be waiting with great hope for the birth of their children. What a better image for this time of Advent, the liturgical season of joyful waiting, than pregnant women. What does this have to do with you and me today? Just what is ‘it’ that we are waiting for? And ‘who’ are we waiting for? Am I waiting? If so, what for?
Advent reminds us that Christ the Son of God, the Word has come and been made flesh. We are not waiting for the baby Jesus to come. He has already come. However, are we not still waiting in joyful expectation for the Word to dwell amongst us in every way, every day? The joy is that God comes to us in very unexpected and personal ways, as the Spirit came to Elizabeth and Mary and to Zechariah. The challenge and the preparation is to take some time in silence and solitude, if at all possible, to recognise just where the Spirit has come into my life – where is the pregnancy in my life today – what are the signs of God’s life – and what are my fears and frustrations that accompany the gift of the Spirit in me.
‘Lord, may we joyfully thank you for your presence in our lives and wait for you, through the Holy Spirit, to birth new gifts in our lives. May Mary our Mother intercede for us’ Amen.
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA