Micah 5:1-4; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45
The Gospel account for this 4th Sunday of Advent is about two pregnant women, one of whom, Elizabeth, was already in the sixth month of her pregnancy. Mary had only recently received the news that she was pregnant. It was a life-changing announcement, and she probably needed some time to herself, time to prepare, time to reflect, time to get herself together. But she didn’t think of her own needs. Instead she set out on an arduous journey to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was six months pregnant, and to care for her. That’s not something most women would do. But these were two remarkable women, remarkable in the sense that under ordinary circumstances they would not be pregnant. One was a virgin; the other was beyond, way beyond, childbearing age. Both were not supposed to be pregnant. But God was at work within them. To add to the unexplainable mystery, they both bore within their wombs mysterious babies. One bore the Christ, God’s only begotten Son; the other bore John the Baptist.
What does that have to do with us? What does this entire interchange have to do with how we live our lives?
There are those who believe that life is all about having fun. Eat, drink, and have fun is their motto. They live for weekends when they don’t have to be on the job, times when they can get away from making a living and really live (they mistakenly think) in their weekends. There are others who don’t want to pay attention to what’s inside themselves, who divert their attention from anything and everything that is spiritual. Their focus is on their bodies; they don’t want to admit that they have souls. The spiritual, they ask? Who cares! John the Baptist? He was some kind of a nut! Jesus Christ? Who’s he? is their response.
At another level, all of us must eventually face the fact that we are persons and that we are destined to live in interpersonal relationships. All of us feel the call to love. Some of us are, however, afraid to love because love demands setting one’s self aside. Love demands that we be open, sensitive and vulnerable to others. Those who cannot love don’t stay married for very long. Those who cannot love don’t have any good friends, and if they do their friendships are superficial at best. Those who cannot love, or those who choose not to love, are doomed to live only for themselves, doomed to love only their own selves.
As persons do we think we are bodies that happen to have souls, or are we souls clothed with bodies? How you answer that question determines how you will live out your life. So, because the question is so crucial, I’ll ask it again: Are we bodies that maybe have souls, or are we souls clothed with bodies?
It’s what’s inside us that matters, not how we look, not how beautifully our bodies may shaped, not how many possessions we have, not how much money we have, not what kind of jobs we have, or the professions we live in. It’s what’s inside us that matters; it’s the spiritual part of us that allows us to love, to have friendship, and to truly relate to others.
So what does the story of Mary and Elizabeth have to do with us? Well, Mary was carrying within her the Christ child. We, too, carry within us the presence of Christ. That’s why we pay such attention to Mary. She models who we are and what God is doing inside us. The Church is pregnant with the presence of Christ, something that we are about to celebrate in Holy Communion. And since the Church is not simply a building or an institution, since the Church is the Body of Christ since and you and I constitute together the Mystical Body of Christ, we, like Mary, carry within us the presence of Christ. Not only that, but we carry within us the presence of Christ not just for our own sake, but in order to share Him with others. We bear Christ within us that we may bring Him to others in the world around us.
So now we see the importance of the story of Mary and Elizabeth. Now, perhaps, those two pregnant women are not so mysterious after all. If we see ourselves in them and understand ourselves to be just like them, then we see that we are to go out to others both when convenient and inconvenient; we are to carry the presence of Christ to all those who labor under heavy burdens, to all those who are frightened, who have been intimidated by life, and who need our help. They are our cousins, just as Elizabeth was Mary’s cousin. They may not be old and infirm; they may be young and lost. They are anyone and everyone who needs our loving attention, our caring for them, our love.
Our Catholic faith is not simply about saving ourselves and getting ourselves into heaven. God made us who we are for the life of the world. Saving our souls is a part of why we come to Mass, but it’s only half an answer to why God made us in the first place. The other half is equally important, namely bringing the care, love, compassion, concern, and presence of the Christ within us to those around us. God calls us to reveal His kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.
We may be tempted to feel we are too small and too insignificant to matter much. If you hear that voice whispering within you, then you must recognize that it is the devil who is speaking, the devil who wants you to ignore the call of love, to ignore God’s love, and do nothing. Listen again to what the prophet Micah is saying to you and me in today’s first reading: Thus says the Lord: You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old, from ancient times. He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the Lord, in the majestic name of the Lord, his God; for now his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; he shall be peace.
How you live your life can have a tremendous influence on others around you. You have the power to bring Christ’s love, compassion, mercy, and friendship to those around you, particularly to those who are close to you. John the Baptist in Elizabeth’s womb recognized Jesus in Mary’s womb and was filled with joy. Others around you can recognize the presence of Christ within you and also be filled with joy. You can bring to them what their hearts are searching for. Yes, it may be hidden; the bond of friendship and love may be hidden from the eyes of others, but it will be no less real.
Elizabeth blessed Mary, crying out: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” May others who know you, others who have received your loving care and friendship, likewise bless you.
And so what does the story of Mary and Elizabeth have to do with us? The answer is: Everything!