Indeed, the Church is inviting us to get more deeply in touch with the core meaning of Christmas and how we did prepare for it during last 3 weeks of Advent. This core meaning is found in the stories of the Gospel that we listen to every year till the point we can memorize them. However, how we can renew or make those stories alive in our life that is a challenge for us in these busy days.
Today, we hear of how Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth in haste after knowing her good news through the angel Gabriel. How a young lady could travel a distance between Nazareth, the city where Mary lived, and the hill country of Judah, the place where Elizabeth lived, which was at least a week's journey. Only after listening to God’s word and trusting her life to God as a “servant of the Lord”, Mary could go from the North to the South of Palestine which was difficult and at times dangerous road alone. She must “set out” carefully for the journey and could have looked for companions or joined others on their pilgrimage towards Jerusalem. We contemplate at her eagerness and promptness to be of service to her cousin.
The moment Elizabeth saw Mary, her child leapt in her womb with great joy, and she was filled with the Holy Spirit. In this scene, we can sense that Mary’s visit to her cousin was a sacred encounter. This entire scene is amazing. Elizabeth did not know Mary was coming and she certainly did not know Mary was pregnant but as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s voice something profound happened within her. Not only did her child leap for joy because he recognized the child Mary was carrying, but Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit made her understand that Mary was pregnant and that the child Mary was carrying was the long awaited Messiah. And all of this happens for one important reason, to help assure Mary that what the angel said was true. God does not show us His will in our lives by not confirming it in different ways. While God wants us to walk in faith, it is not always blind faith; God loves us enough to work through others and through the power of the Holy Spirit to help us to understand and to try our best to fulfill God’s will for our lives.
In this sacred encounter, we see that Elizabeth believed in God’s word without hearing it directly from an angel as her husband, Zechariah or Mary could. She believed perhaps by experiencing what happened to her husband and to herself. Her faith has been strengthened by seeing God’s deeds in her married life: “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.” How persevere she was!
Elizabeth is an example for us to be patient in praying, in discerning and in acting upon the moment we get to know God’s will in our lives. However today we are having both superficial and secular way of living our lives side by side with the call to deepen our spiritual engagement with God. We are challenged to bring God to every activities of our relationship with others as Mary and Elizabeth did. They found God’s will and were ready to act upon it. Mary in today’s Gospel exemplified how to be Christ-like in our life-giving ways to others.
Therefore we should not let the commercial world full of glitter and glow that appeal to our superficial and material needs make us forget the core meaning of Christmas. The Church reminds us of how we welcome Jesus and become Christ-like to other people who do not yet know Him in order to help each other to respond to God’s call in our lives as Elizabeth and Mary did.
By offering our time, talent and energy for the good of others; by reaching out to the aged, poor and needy because we are connected more fully with God in prayer and in the Sacraments, we will able to be more Christ-like and life-giving to others. We can say that we are not always able to keep that good practice in times of troubles or difficulties or because of our limitations. We should not forget what the angel told Mary that nothing is impossible with God. If God can have Elizabeth, an old and barren woman conceive a child, then God can have a young virgin do the same thing. So we must imitate a young and courageous lady Mary who overcame the far and difficult journey to visit her cousin to face with all our difficulties and troubles by an ultimate confidence that God is with us as Mary did.
As people of faith, we cannot be passive after hearing the Good News of salvation. We are called to be the messenger of peace and love to those who are most beloved to us and also to those we are having difficulties to deal with. By opening, offering totally ourselves to the God and ask the Holy Spirit to guide us as Mary and Elizabeth, this Christmas will be more joyful as Mark Twain said: “To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.”
Pope Francis in his Evangelii Gaudium also tell us: “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.”(#1)
Jesus changed Mary’s life and our lives too. Mary is the “Star of the New Evangelization” will intercede for us to be brave as her to set out from our own comfort zones “with haste” to be of service to others.