It is appropriate in the season of Advent that we consider the role of Mary in God’s plan of salvation. Mary’s faith enabled her to recognize the work of God in her people’s history and in her own life. Her openness to God allowed God to work through her so that salvation might come to everyone. Because of this, Mary is a model and symbol of the Church.
The story on the fourth Sunday of Advent is about two pregnant women, the first one 6 months along is already experiencing the movement of the child in her womb. The baby leaps when her cousin calls out to her. This is a story of utter delight of a meeting of mothers and infants. The babies, John and Jesus – both of whom got their names directly from angels of God. They were to be friends and fellow prophets, recognized each other when they were still in the womb.
First, we hear about Mary and her journey. When left her Mary eagerly goes dancing over the hills (well, maybe not quite “dancing” after all the distance she traveled was close to 50 miles). Did she tell anyone on her way about the angel, the message or why she was hastening to her cousin? I’m guessing she might have shared her experience and her concerns with her mom, Anne.
Rushing to share her secret with her cousin, Mary found another surprise: old Elizabeth was expecting a child of her own! God was up to something big here! Elizabeth greets Mary with full recognition of the roles that they and their unborn children will play in God’s plan for salvation. If we were to continue to read the verses that follow in Luke’s Gospel, we would hear Mary respond to Elizabeth’s greeting with her song of praise, the Magnificat. Both women recall and echo God’s history of showing favor upon the people of Israel.
To me, in this part of the Nativity story, Elizabeth is the star of the show and we do well not to overlook the significance of Elizabeth’s role in our salvation history. She is the “amazed saint.” She is exemplary in her response to her baby’s movement in her womb. She is so in tune with her own body, she appreciates that something new and wonderful is going on here. Elizabeth then broke out in joyful exclamation! “Why am I so favored?” Hers is humble amazement at being able to participate directly in God’s plan. How muted Zechariah must have wished he, too, could sing with his wife over Mary’s news! We who have a role in God’s plan should share this wonder.
Some of you may recall Fr. Simeon sharing a one-minute nugget of a Fourth Sunday of Advent homily in which you’ll find these lines:
Two women, cousins.
Girls giggling gladness, dancing delirious dream,
Marveling mystery, barely hearing –
He ended with this question: “Can God enter earth if there are no women?”
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress