Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Visitation: Sharing God's Glory

Written for the Fairfield University Alumni Advent Reflection Series. Additional reflections can be found online.

Luke 1: 39-45
Mary set out in those days 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,
"Most 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."

I do not know what thoughts and feelings accompanied Mary on that journey to Judah, or why she set out to see Elizabeth in the first place. Did she go forth in haste to serve Elizabeth in solidarity, as my young nun friends in South America attest? Did she go to witness Elizabeth's pregnancy as a confirmation of her own private revelation, as my bible footnotes? Or, as my roommate who has supported several friends through young and unplanned pregnancy asks, did she pick up and go in order to avoid the shame that likely would have plagued her in her hometown? Did her total self-giving and the promise of the annunciation protect her from the daunting realities of an unwed pregnancy and save her from all doubt and anxiety?
Whatever questions and emotions may have traveled with Mary on the path to Judah, she must have arrived there in overwhelming joy and awe at the Word made flesh within her. Why else would just the sound of her voice cause such an exalted response from the depths of Elizabeth's being? Only immense hope could make Mary's greeting so powerful that her joy spread like wildfire, even causing the infant in Elizabeth's womb to dance. Of course this young Jewish woman went to be with her cousin. Who can keep the wonder of God's glory all to herself?
Mary's active embrace of her own truth filled her with a deep joy, a wholeness that is fulfilled and confirmed when shared with Elizabeth. She arrived in Judah not only as herself, but as a carrier of God's own Being. Elizabeth, because she also knows the power of God's grace, is immediately capable of recognizing the Divine Presence within Mary, proclaiming her blessed. Her response to Mary is one of deep humility and reverence: Why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
In her spirit of exuberant joy, Mary is teaching us that by living in union with Truth, we carry Christ to others and have the power to ignite the life deep within them. Elizabeth, in her reverence, is asking us to allow God's grace to sensitize us to the Spirit flourishing in our neighbor. Together these two women, pregnant and enlivened by the Spirit, share a common holiness as prophets and witnesses to God's extraordinary mercy and love in the most unlikely circumstances.
May the Word take root in our innermost being, be nourished by our faith in the promise of God's grace, and spread a contagious fire of joy, palpable in the mere sound of a greeting, the vibrations in the air that go forth before us.