“Blessed Are You”
What to learn from Mary and Elizabeth this last Sunday of Advent
We are finally brought to the last Sunday of Advent, a culmination of four Sundays of preparation for the coming of Christ in the Christmas season. The readings for this Sunday hammer down on the reality of Christ’s coming, kicking off with perhaps the most famous of prophecies on the birth of Christ, uttered by Micah. His words echo throughout the land, bringing to fore the message of the coming of the Messiah, hailing from the line of David.
This prophecy from Micah tells the people of Israel that the stage is finally set, and when the Son of Man comes, he shall bring the people back to God’s fold. His coming may be quiet, simple, lowly even. His passion and death may be gruesome, shameful, undignified. Yet he overcame them all, rising and ascending in glory, overcoming the very chains of death and sin, truly opening the avenue to be brought back to God’s fold.
The Psalms speak of the yearning of the people of Israel, and similarly our prayer as well. Think about it, if witnessing the countenance of God can already transform us, what more is it to be fully united with Him? Yet we know that we cannot do it on our own. We need our Lord to help us, hence our plea to help us turn to Him. We ask that He rise up, hurry to save us, and bring us back to Him, that we may never depart from Him anymore, to always stay with Him all the days of our lives, and beyond.
Paul, in the second reading, opens to us on why Christ’s coming fulfills the need for a sacrifice. Jewish custom during the Passover dictates the sacrifice of a lamb that will be shared between a family, or two, if the number of people in a family is small.
Yet Christ, in his coming in the world and eventually his suffering, death, and resurrection, perfects this sacrifice, and more. He consecrates us to the Father, setting us apart for a holy work. This “setting apart” restores and renews us for the mission that God cuts out specifically for us. We are born and made new, set apart for God, and Christ completes this mission for us. We are simply called to cooperate and follow unwaveringly.
The Gospel reading now brings us to an all-too familiar, yet always insightful episode prior to Christ’s birth. Mary, who is pregnant sets out to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who is also with child despite her old age. We can recall that Zechariah was visited by the angel Gabriel and was told of Elizabeth’s pregnancy despite her old age. We know that Zechariah doubted, leading to his being made mute until such time the child is born. We may wonder how Elizabeth responded to such a news from Zechariah, but seeing how she responded as soon as Mary approached her might be a telling answer to this question. As the Gospel reading mentions, Elizabeth, “filled with the Holy Spirit”, immediately recognizes Mary as “the mother of the Lord.”
We can see here the contrast of the responses of these two women with the men in their lives. Zechariah’s faith failed him, leading to his punishment. Joseph needed reassurance despite his wanting to act in good intentions. Yet these women never wavered. From Mary’s fiat to Elizabeth’s blessing of Mary and the child in Mary’s womb, we see women of faith, women of grace. And that is the primary point of reflection for us, to constantly seek for Christ’s help to keep us in a constant state of grace despite the non-stop pounding and presence of temptations left and right.
We also see how John, despite still being in Elizabeth’s womb, recognized and “leapt” at the very presence of Mary and Jesus. John recognized the Christ which is the catalyst of the ultimate plan of God through Mary. We are also called to constantly reflect on seeing the presence of Jesus in every minute of our every day, never mind if these are good or bad situations or events.
Elizabeth also recognized Mary’s faith. She knows, having faith doesn’t mean that everything will be easy and smooth sailing. In fact, more often than not, challenges will be more difficult than expected, but, in standing firm in faith, even the impossible is credible, possible, and truly worth believing and holding on to, no matter how dark or dreary the days may get. This is our last point of reflection, to learn to recognize Christ and the moments of faith in our lives.
In Mary’s visitation of Elizabeth, we are further brought to the reality of Christ’s coming. The past three Sundays of Advent called on us to be vigilant, to repent and do act of penance, and to do all these with joy. The exchange between Mary and Elizabeth tells us to do all of these with faith, not just on this first Advent, but on the second Advent and coming of Christ.