“In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.” (Luke 1:39-40)
On this last Sunday of the Advent season, our Gospel passage narrates Mary’s visit to her kinswoman Elizabeth. Her visit brought so much joy and peace so much so that that the child in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy. In our first reading, we hear the prophecy of Micah concerning the little town of Bethlehem; how from it would come a ruler who will bring peace. As our second reading explains, when this great ruler (Jesus Christ) came into the world, it was not out of compulsion but with a willing heart. Like Jesus, Mary willingly offered to help Elizabeth in her three month visit thereby teaching some vital lessons as far as the Christian life is concerned.
1. Kindness to and Care for the Old.
One great lesson Mary teaches us today is the need to care for the aged. The moment the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary at her kinswoman Elizabeth despite her old age was six-month pregnant, Mary arose and went with haste to the hill country to look for Elizabeth. Mary did not go there simply to confirm if Angel Gabriel’s words were true. Three months would have been too long for such a confirmation.
Mary went there to stay with Elizabeth because she knew Elizabeth was old, and that she didn’t have a good reputation in her neighbourhood. Elizabeth’s nickname was barren woman, she probably didn’t have friends and so, she needed someone to help her around the house given the fatigue that comes with pregnancy. Mary understood her need and came to her rescue. Mary would do something similar again when she influenced Jesus to work his first miracle at the wedding feast at Cana having perceived that the couple would be embarrassed at the shortage of wine.
What is my attitude to the sick and the old? When last did I visit my aged parents or relatives? Am I the type who only helps people when asked or do I put myself in the shoes of those in need like Mary? During this season of Christmas, one virtue we must learn to cultivate is kindness. God was so kind to us in sending us His Son Jesus Christ, Mary was kind to Elizabeth by going to visit help her. Your Christmas will not be complete if you fail to be kind to your fellow brothers and sisters especially the old.
2. We Attract God’s Blessings and Gain Self-Knowledge We Visit the Old.
When we visit the old, they may not have money or material things to give us but one thing they have in abundance is the ability to bless us. Mary’s visit caused Elizabeth to be filled with the Holy Spirit and she gave a loud cry: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” True to her words, Mary is the most blessed of all women that ever lived and will ever live.
Indeed, in the course of blessing Mary, Elizabeth became the first person to address Mary as the “Mother of my Lord.” It was upon hearing this that Mary felt the full grasp of what had just happened to her; that she had become the Mother of God. Upon this realization, Mary who had always considered herself as nothing other than God’s handmaiden was so full of joy that she opened her mouth to sing the Magnificat.
3. Mary’s Visit Revealed Her as the New Ark of God.
In 2nd Samuel 6:10-11, we read of how the ark of the Lord which had been captured by the Philistines was returned to Israel and for three months it remained in the house of Obededom. Mary, carrying Jesus in her womb spends three months in the house of Zechariah. David upon hearing that the house of Obededom was blessed because of the presence of the ark of God went to bring it with great rejoicing. Upon hearing the voice of Mary’s greeting, John the Baptist leapt (danced for joy) in Elizabeth’s womb.
What does this teach us about Mary? That at the fullness of time, “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5). For her great “Yes” to God’s plan, Mary became a living tabernacle; she became the new Ark of the Covenant; God-bearer, a creature given the privilege of carrying her own creator. Like Mary, each of us is a bearer of something. Let us examine ourselves: “What am I carrying? Does my presence bring joy to others? Is it the case that people long for my absence instead?”
4. God Raises the Humble and brings down the Proud.
In today’s first reading, we hear Micah prophesying: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.” (Micah 5:2). Bethlehem, despite being the least of the clans of Judah would eventually become the hometown of the expected Messiah proving to us that God tends to favour those despised by the world.
This fact would, later on, be concretely expressed in Mary’s song of Thanksgiving when upon visiting Elizabeth, it fully dawned on her that she, an unknown Jewish girl, had just become the most blessed woman on earth, the mother of God. Mary sang: “my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. … He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree. (Luke 1:47-52).
Mary knew she was the Mother of God but this did not stop her from being a servant to Elizabeth for three good months, running errands, cleaning the house, cooking, helping to massage Elizabeth’s feet and so on and so on. Mary was so humble that she lived her life quietly as though she was just any other woman. Mary is a great teacher and role model as far as humility is concerned. What is Christmas? God stooped low to our level. He came not as a warrior but as a baby – humility. Learn to forget your wealth, decrees and qualifications and try to stoop low to help as many people as you can. Then you will be truly be celebrating Christmas.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, may my presence bring joy to those I visit this Christmas. Amen.
Bible Study: Micah 5:2-5, Psalm 80:2-19, Hebrews 10:5-10 and Luke 1:39-45).