Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

Advent 4
December 27, 2012, 12:19 pm
Filed under: Sermons

“Bethlehem, of noblest cities, none can once with thee compare!” That is what we sing in one of our Christmas hymns- but it is not what the prophet Micah said, seven centuries before our Lord was born. Bethlehem, you are the least of the clans of Judah! An insignificant village, miles outside the capital city, yet from this place will come the one who will be king.

God never seems to do the obvious thing, as we humans reckon it. Long before Micah’s time, God had selected the shepherd-boy David, youngest of his family, from the village of Bethlehem, to be king of Israel. When Jesus was born at Bethlehem, the wise men- wise in a human fashion, that is- looked for him at the court of king Herod, not in the obscure village miles away.

In today’s Gospel, we see Mary hurrying to visit Elizabeth- a young girl from the village of Nazareth, going to see her relative, an elderly woman supposedly past child-bearing. Who could possibly imagine that God would be working his purposes out through such as these? Let’s look more closely at the story.

Mary has accepted her vocation to be mother of the Messiah, and she has heard that her cousin Elizabeth is also pregnant, so she goes with haste to visit her. Mary is no stay-at-home, thinking only of herself, even though she had so much to think about. Her cousin- so much older than she herself that it was thought that she would never have a child- is going to become a mother. Mary feels drawn to this other woman who shares her vocation of motherhood. Mary is the bearer of good news, and she cannot wait to share it. Already she is an example for us to follow.

Entering the house, she greets Elizabeth, just as a little while before Gabriel had entered her house and greeted her. And as soon as her voice is heard, the unborn John leaps in his mother’s womb. This is Luke’s way of conveying to us that John’s vocation to be a prophet of the Messiah has already begun. He signals to his own mother- the only one able to perceive his movement- that the one he was to go before is already present. This is no human revelation, it comes to Elizabeth from the Holy Spirit Himself. Elizabeth has heard from her husband Zechariah what Gabriel had said to him about their son’s destiny; in a flash she connects it to the presence, the unexpected presence, of her young cousin Mary. “You too,” she thinks, “have received a message from God. If my son is to go before the Lord to prepare his ways, then who must your child be, that mine, even unborn, is so glad to herald?”

How could Elizabeth know, except by God’s Spirit? “Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord?” Almost casually and by the way Elizabeth gives the child of Mary the title of Lord, Kyrios, which Luke has used before to refer only to God, and which later (in the book of Acts) he will make the title given by the Church to the Risen Christ. “My Lord!” How much meaning is contained in those two words! And already the child cannot be separated from the mother. A visit from the mother of the Lord is in itself an honour, a grace.

“Blessed is she who believed!” The root of Mary’s blessedness is the faith she has in the promises of God. Years later, a woman in the crowd would echo Elizabeth: “Blessed is the womb that bore you!” And our Lord replied, “Say rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God, and keep it.” Mary first heard the Word of God in her mind and heart, and then gave it flesh in her womb. We must hear the Word in our hearts, and then, as we give it expression in our lives, we take on the image of Christ our Lord, we become more and more Christ-like, and as members of the Church which is his mystical body, we too become children of Mary. According to the actress Kate Winslet, her Majesty the Queen told her at a recent celebrity reception that being a mother “is the best job”. Mary’s motherhood, not just of Jesus but of all of us, his brothers and sisters, is certainly that!

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