Fourth Sunday of Advent - Cycle C
1st Reading: Micah 5:1-4A
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
2nd Reading: Hebrews 10:5-10
Gospel: Luke 1:39-45
In John Pilch’s book, The Cultural World of Jesus (Cycle C), the idea of Mary traveling alone to see her cousin is quite unlikely. Pilch argues that it would have taken Mary approximately four days to travel to Elizabeth. Mary was in Galilee and Elizabeth was in a village in Judea. Solo travel by a woman was unheard of at the time. A woman (especially a fourteen-year-old girl) would have had a male escort of some kind (likely a close relative). Such travel would have stirred up speculation and gossip and criticism regarding Mary’s perceived shame and imagined bad behavior. Perhaps Mary felt confident to travel alone (and felt safe) because she was aware of the holy child she bore and would therefore be able to ward off the potential evil that might befall her on such a journey. And, it also seems unlikely that Mary would leave Elizabeth in her greatest time of need (so close to giving birth). We don’t really know. What Pilch suggests however is the significance of the story. What did Luke want his readers to understand? He wanted to introduce John and make the connection between the missions of John and Jesus.
It is Elizabeth that greets Mary upon her arrival. This welcoming roll would have belonged to Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah, but he couldn’t speak. He struggled with believing and/or understanding that his elderly wife, barren for all these years, could finally bear a child. The child Elizabeth is carrying leaps (for joy) at the sound of Mary’s voice. This indicates to the reader that these two, unborn children are destined for a future relationship. They will live out their lives together. All of the law and prophets are fulfilled in Jesus. John in the forerunner, and Jesus is the Savior
Ultimately, this gospel is an example of two women who believed and trusted in God’s plan for them. Both of these women were unlikely candidates for the job, and yet, God chose them. They didn’t argue, or even insist on understanding, they simply said “yes”. They agreed to be instruments of God’s work and are the ultimate example of discipleship. Remember that Mary traveled “in haste.” She had been told that all would call her blessed, but in the meantime, there were things to do. Love is a verb. Mary was waiting, but she was not idle. We are called (especially during the Advent season) to an active remembering. This is not just history, but the call is present for us now. We too are waiting for the Savior, but we are not to be idle. Elizabeth needed Mary at that moment and Mary answered the call. Thomas Merton wrote that Mary is “in the highest sense a person.” He meant that she didn’t “obscure God’s light in her being.”
Just like Mary, we are wondering, anticipating and hoping during this time. Elizabeth immediately recognized the significance of the visit through the gift of the Holy Spirit. We are called to be open to the presence of Christ in those around us as well, even our relatives. If we truly understood this, we too would leap for joy.
1. Who is your Elizabeth? Who is it you are called to visit and to serve?
2. Why do you think Mary went to visit Elizabeth?
3. Are you truly aware of the joy this feast brings with the realization that God is in our midst?
There is no handout for this week as the Catechumenate Session would have been on break for the upcoming Christmas holiday.