Let’s imagine what Mary’s visitation with Elizabeth was really like. In the description from the Gospel of Luke, we have some of the details. We have two women coming together, both expecting a child. They are related to each other but at such different ages.
One is an older woman who thought that her deepest desire to have a child would never be fulfilled. The other is a much younger woman, surprised by the invitation she’s been given by God but able through faith to say yes. They both await the fulfillment of God’s promises to them.
A baby moving in the womb is certainly a sign of life, but it can also be startling or even painful. These two women seem to be excited to see each other, and their babies express that excitement. They have both given to God the one sacrifice that God asks from each of us, which is a humble and contrite heart. They are examples for us in these last days of Advent. Like Mary and Elizabeth, we are carrying the fruit of the promise of God within us while living with that promise unfulfilled. We walk by faith and not by sight.
Before we end this Advent season, take some time to acknowledge the promises God has made to you that are still unfulfilled. Take a moment to notice whether you are like Elizabeth — who believed that the time for the fulfillment had passed her by — or like Mary — stunned and surprised by what God is asking of you and thinking you are too young or too unprepared. As we struggle to believe in the promises God has given us, we are left with the question of faith and trust.
As we examine our willingness to take up whatever adventure God has put before us, are we basing our response only on our own strength and resources? Both Elizabeth and Mary would’ve had to say no if they only trusted in their own power. They knew they needed the power of God to be with them and they needed to trust that God could live up to His word.
Are we willing to look foolish in order to do what God asks us to do? Can we choose to be hopeful when everyone around us chooses to be cynical? Can we choose to carry Christ to others even if it means we are shunned or ridiculed? Can we treat others with love even as they treat us with hatred?
“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” After being as blessed as you have been in life, are you choosing to believe something other than God’s promise to you? Are you setting aside your hopefulness because you have been disappointed in life? Are you remembering the times in life when you thought you were alone or without hope and now believe that that was not true?
The image of a shepherd is offered to us again through the Prophet Micah. The virtues of this shepherd are strength, majesty, greatness and fidelity. These are the virtues that we need to be surrounded by so that we can act in faith even when we don’t see the promises fulfilled as of yet. Jesus is willing to walk with us and work with us as we act in faith. Is this Advent time preparing us not just to celebrate something that happened in the past but to live in this moment as if the kingdom of God is at hand?
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Sunday, Dec. 19
Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19.