Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

by Fr Mark James OP

Sharing our joy

The visitation of Mary and Elizabeth is a story of meeting. It is an encounter of two pregnant women, one elderly and the other a youth probably in her teens, that speaks about love, compassion and joy. It speaks of the ordinary human experiences of solidarity and concern for others. However, our faith helps us understand that this ordinary human encounter, like the encounters of our own lives, can also be encounters with God’s grace. Both these women were ordinary but at the same time extraordinary. They were extraordinary because they had both agreed to cooperate with God’s plan of salvation for humanity. Consequently, this is no ordinary encounter but rather one that is pregnant with meaning.

Mary’s visit to Elizabeth is not just a story of friendship but one about the encounter with Christ. Mary brings Christ to Elizabeth. It is John the Baptist who recognised the significance of this moment by leaping with joy in Elizabeth’s womb. John’s leaping with joy in the womb is the meaning and the significance of the Incarnation. The Incarnation, Christ’s birth among us is a moment of joy. A moment of grace that fills us with joy. The Christ child is to be born in the ordinary circumstances of our lives. On Christmas Day, Jesus comes to meet us where we are.

Jesus comes to meet us and be born in our lives, even if, we feel we are not ready, or that our lives are too confused, too poor or complicated. The Franciscan theologian, Ilia Deli, speaks of the Incarnation as God ‘bending down’ or ‘bowing low’ to meet us, the fragile and finite creatures that we are. In the same way that a loving mother bends over to raise the child from her cot so God bows low to raise us up. This is the source of our joy. This is the joy of Christmas.

Many of our images of God are ones where God is a judge keeping score of our sins and wrong doings. We are so consumed with guilt and fear that we forget that we forget that first and foremost the Incarnation we celebrate at Christmas is a celebration of a humble God who knows our guilt, who knows our sins and who, despite these faults and failings, bends low to embrace us out of love. Jesus is born into our human condition to redeem us, but he also comes to complete the work of creation and to bring it to completion. Jesus’ birth at Christmas is an invitation to cooperate with God’s plan of salvation as Mary and Elizabeth did. Do we have the courage of Mary and Elizabeth? Are we willing to give our lives in God’s service and cooperate with God’s plan of salvation for our world? Are we willing to have our lives transformed by the love of Christ and be willing to follow him like his disciples? Are we willing to make our contribution to God’s work of drawing creation to completion, by the love we show for one another?

The visitation reminds us that the encounter with the loving God is the source of our joy and happiness. It is a sign of a world transformed by love. This joy is to be shared and not just kept to oneself. Mary and Elizabeth share their joy with one another and provide the model for how we are to be Church and to be evangelisers. Pope Francis reminds us that ‘if we wish to lead a dignified and fulfilling life, we have to reach out to others and seek their good (The Joy of Gospel, 11). Joy like love, knowledge and truth doesn’t diminish by being shared but rather grows and increases. Let us be part of that increase.