The Gospel for next Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, is the meeting between Our Lady and her elderly pregnant cousin Elizabeth.
Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
Gospel Lk 1:39-45
In Luke’s Gospel, our Lady and the angel Gabriel had just concluded their wonderful dialogue in which the angel had said, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus,” and Mary replied, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
During that dialogue, Gabriel had announced, “Behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” This is the context in which Mary “traveled to the hill country in haste.”
Why the haste?
Why “in haste”? Mary was very young and young persons get excited about good things that are coming. Some reasons Mary wanted to see Elizabeth as quickly as possible could have been:
- To see that Elizabeth really was pregnant, as confirmation that what the angel said was true
- If it was true, to be with her “partner” in this divine plan of salvation God was beginning
- To serve her elderly cousin, who would find it harder and harder to do her daily tasks as her pregnancy advanced, and who would need someone to help her once her baby was born.
Our response to Mary’s haste could be requests from God like the following:
- Lord, please give me incredibly good things also!
- Lord, let me see with my own eyes that your promises are true!
- Lord, let me be with brothers and sisters who also belong to you and who are carrying out your plans!
- Lord, let me find joy in serving others in their need!
Our advanced knowledge about the development of the unborn child in the womb adds a beautiful element to our reflection on this passage. We now know enough about the bond between a mother and her unborn child, and between an unborn child and the outside world, to know that the unborn six-month-old John both heard Mary’s greeting and his mother’s joyful response. If his mother, Elizabeth, was filled with the Holy Spirit, why could John also not be filled to his capacity? So he leapt with joy—along with, or because of, or as the cause of, his mother’s joy.
How blessed are we if we can be the source of another’s joy. How blessed are we if we can share in the joy of another. By causing, sharing in, and receiving joy, we act in God’s image, reflecting in a limited way the shared love which sustains the Trinity.
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth “knew” Mary was pregnant, that Mary’s child was Elizabeth’s “Lord,” and so, that Mary was incredibly blessed. In fact, Mary was blessed two-fold. She was blessed objectively, because of her child and because she was chosen to be the mother of that child. She was blessed subjectively, because she believed that what God told her would come true.
The Son became incarnate to do the Father’s will
For this Gospel reading, the new Homiletic Directory issued by the Vatican recommends we consider this idea: The Son became incarnate to do the Father’s will.
What did God the Son do? The Son of God became incarnate. The “Incarnation”—literally infleshment—is the theological term that captures St. John’s expression, “The Word became flesh.” It is “the fact that the Son of God assumed a human nature in order to accomplish our salvation in it” (CCC 461). Christ’s Incarnation refers not just to Christ’s body. It means the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, with his divine intellect and divine will, joined to himself a complete human nature: his human body with its emotions and passions and his human soul with its human mind and human will.
Did Christ do this? Why did he do this? The second reading for the Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year C) expresses that he did this and why he did it. Christ took on human flesh to do God’s will: “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Lo, I have come to do your will, O God’” (CCC 462).
It is completely endearing that Our Lord chose to arrive in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary as an embryo and to develop there, to be born, and to grow up from childhood to manhood in a family.
What is the will that Christ came to do? The Father’s will is his “plan of redeeming love.” Jesus embraced this every moment of his life—including all his ordinary activities—including his life of prayer (CCC 2568)—but it reached its pinnacle in “his redemptive passion” (CCC 607). This is why we can then meaningfully contemplate every stage of Christ’s life.
Did Christ fulfill the Father’s will? Yes. “In Christ, and through his human will, the will of the Father has been perfectly fulfilled once for all” (CCC 2824).
What is the consequence of this fulfillment of the Father’s will? We are delivered from sin and sanctified (CCC 2824).
Contemplate the unborn Christ
So, how can all these truths go beyond head knowledge and enter our hearts?
I suggest that we contemplate the Unborn Christ.
With Our Lady, we adore Christ as a newborn baby at Christmas when we gaze at a Nativity scene. Or we contemplate the childhood of Christ in the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. Or we meditate on his public life in the Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. With Our Lady, let us adore Christ as an unborn baby in her womb in these last weeks before Christmas.
We can bring everything we happen to know about fetal development, the experiences of a pregnant woman, the reality of who this unborn baby is, the reality of who this mother is, and the mission which God the Father has set for them.
Then we can ask Our Lady and her Son, What is my place in the Father’s plan of redeeming love?