4th Sunday of Advent C by Fr. Bob Longobucco

We pick up from last week’s Gospel of the Annunciation, where Mary is told the Holy Spirit will overshadow her and she, a virgin, will bear the Savior.  The angel also reveals that, “Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren.”  We of course are not surprised that Mary, the mother of mercy, sets off in haste to help Elizabeth.  But there is another reason to go.  God is in the midst of doing something astounding and there are only four people who know about it, Elizabeth and Mary and their partners Zechariah and Joseph.  Not every old barren woman and young virgins are having babies after all.  They must have spent some time reflecting on how they of all people were chosen for the greatest task ever entrusted to human beings.  They must have been in awe of the mysterious ways of God.  They had only each other who could truly understand.

The scene captures the importance of the moment.  John the Baptist leaps within the womb of Elizabeth, the forerunner already rejoicing in the presence of the messiah. Elizabeth knows well what is happening.  I am excited to see my cousins over the holidays, but we don’t speak like Elizabeth and Mary do to each other.  Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth cries out, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”  She knows this is more than a family reunion.  She is indeed in awe of her young cousin.  “And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  She alone grasps what Mary has accepted and gives her her props, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

There are but a few days left for Christmas. A few days to prepare.  Not by wrapping presents or in my case dropping something into a bag and crinkling some tissue paper over it or making plans or preparing food.  No we have a few days to answer Elizabeth’s question:  How does this happen to me?

How does this happen to me?  That the Lord that was with Mary is with me as well; that even as she was chosen so was I to bear and rejoice in the presence of Jesus. How does this happen to me?   That I have become part of God’s salvation begun between these two women.  Now I too am swept up into the story of Christ’s redeeming life.  How does this happen to me?  That Jesus would take flesh in Mary and then take flesh in my eyes, my hands and my heart; that the incarnation is a reality for every Christian who forms his body.

How does this happen to me? That a shaft to sunlight could still burst through the darks skies of our world and promise something so brilliant and good.  How does this happen to me?  That in Christ Jesus I have been given a hope that is undefeated if only a hold to it tightly. How does this happen to me?  That I am never alone for the God who became human accompanies me, never abandons me.  How does this happen to me? That as surely as Elizabeth and Mary were filled with the Holy Spirit, so am I as well; that the same Spirit which overshadowed Mary washed over me at baptism. How does this happen to me? That the prince of peace reigns within me.  How does this happen to me?  That every gift of Jesus Christ is given to me.  And that I can share those gifts with all the world. How does this happen to me?  That I have been chosen and loved beyond all telling. How does this happen to me?  That I have been enveloped in the most merciful act of all: God becoming human for our sake, becoming vulnerable and indeed suffering so that I might be free.

How does this happen to me?  Just a few days left to ask.  The answer is Christmas Day.