Journey to Rejoicing: a Reflection for the 4th Sunday in Advent, 2021

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Journey to Rejoicing: a Reflection for the 4th Sunday in Advent, 2021

by Sister Jayne Erickson

Micah 5:1-4a

Hebrews 10:5-10

Luke 1:39-45

Consider the scene: A young woman (or teenage girl) is expecting her first child. She’s been told by a very reliable source that this is no ordinary child, but, in fact, this child is the Son of God. No pressure there, right? How will she prepare for such a radical change in her life? A new, unexpected baby in a new household. Wow! And the Son of God? Double wow! How will she do it? What should she do first? Prepare the nursery? And how will she tell people about this miraculous birth? Who would possibly believe it? Mary did know one thing! She loved God with all her heart and trusted God’s plan for her life.

Miles away, Mary’s older cousin was expecting a child of her own. Hers would also be a miraculous birth. She was well beyond typical child-bearing years, but God had opened her womb to conceive. She would bear a son who would be a prophet proclaiming the coming of the Messiah. How was Elizabeth feeling? Was she afraid? At her age, this was a high-risk pregnancy. What thoughts must be going through her mind? Elizabeth did know one thing! She loved God with all her heart and trusted God’s plan for her life.

Those of us who know the beauty and the power of a kindred relationship with another, one whose sole desire is to know and love God, may be able to understand just a bit of Mary’s decision to set out on a long, dangerous journey to be with her cousin. I’m sure several of us have been in a situation when we’ve traveled in less-than-ideal conditions to be with those we love. For Mary, relationship was important – relationship with God and relationship with family. She and Elizabeth needed to come together to celebrate the new life that was growing within each of them, to celebrate their love for God and God’s love for them. Imagine how it must have felt for Mary to know there was someone who would understand a bit of what she was experiencing. Surely, they would share great joy in God’s goodness to them! And they could offer support to one another as they pondered their future and the challenges before them.

But the story of the visitation is more than a beautiful story about Mary and Elizabeth in a time and place so long ago. It is a message, an example of how we are to live. This story reminds us of the importance of taking time to recognize and appreciate the people in our lives, to support and affirm one another, to share our deep love for God. It reminds us not to let our responsibilities and our “to do” lists keep us from spending time with the people God has gifted us with. The Visitation asks us to treat the people in our own household with kindness and with respect.

So, how can we, like Mary and Elizabeth, celebrate our connectedness to one another? Here is something worth noting about this story: any element of “personal agenda” of Mary and Elizabeth is put aside. Both had good reason to be preoccupied with their own situation. Both had a right to focus on themselves and their challenging life situations, but that’s not what they do. Mary reaches out to help Elizabeth and to be helped by her. Elizabeth, rather than envying Mary, recognizes Mary’s gift and calls her blessed for being the Mother of the Savior. These two great biblical women share their stories, affirm one another’s faith, and give each other the gift of themselves. Their deep, deep love for God increases their ability to have a solid, pure, loving friendship. The dialogue between them is only of rejoicing and praise. In fact, Elizabeth is so enthusiastic in her rejoicing that John jumps for joy in her womb! None of this would have been possible if their hearts were full of pride, envy, bitterness, or anything else that would cause division. Perhaps, we can follow the examples they set for us. As our love for God increases, our ability to enjoy solid, pure, loving relationships free of pride, envy, and bitterness also increases.

Let’s look at one more significant journey. Jesus set out on a journey from His glorious home in Heaven to live among the people of the earth. His love for them was great! They needed Him to guide them in matters of love, of justice, of healthy living, of reconciliation, of peace. Some received Him with grateful hearts. Some turned away and went on living as they had before, rejecting His message of hope and healing. Jesus continues to journey to meet us, deep in our hearts every day, to guide us in matters of love, of justice, of healthy living, of reconciliation, of peace. Sometimes we receive Him with grateful hearts. Sometimes we turn away and go on living as before, rejecting His message of hope and healing.

God chooses to honor each one of us personally with divine visits to bring about healthy changes in our lives. If we’re open, this divine encounter with Christ will bring about transformation and great joy in our hearts as it did for Mary and Elizabeth and we’ll be ready to proclaim, “Joy to the World, the Lord has come!”

The Lord has come in me. “Yes, God,” I will set aside my personal agenda and rejoice in the giftedness of my sister, my brother. “Yes, God,” I hear Your voice. “Yes,” I will become vulnerable in order to build stronger Community. “Yes,” I will search to find a way to heal my brokenness and that of my neighbor. “Yes, God,” I will make the long, hard journey, following the example of Mary and of Jesus, to love my sister, my brother.

And together we will live – rejoicing in hope, affirming our giftedness, celebrating our differences, and proclaiming our love and devotion to our God.

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“Before all, and above all, attention shall be paid to the care of the sick, so that they shall be served as if they were Christ Himself.”
–St. Benedict of Nursia, The Rule of Saint Benedict