Fr. John Allison
December 19, 2021
Christ Church, Hudson
Today, as we begin this fourth week of Advent, we are nearly there. We are on the cusp of the birth of the baby Jesus. We began this journey just over three weeks ago and today, as we begin the fourth week of Advent, we are nearly ready to welcome Christ as he is born into the world. Last week, as we lit the pink candle and celebrated Gaudete Sunday, I began to be aware of a shift inside of me of not waiting for Advent to end but of anticipating something glorious about to begin, and today that feeling is even stronger.
Our Gospel reading today from Luke orients us to this new beginning in it’s telling of what is known as the Visitation—Mary’s journey to her cousin Elizabeth. In the verses preceding today’s reading, the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would bear a son and name him Jesus; he also tells her that her cousin Elizabeth, who is much older than Mary and who had never been able to have children, was in the sixth month of pregnancy. It’s with this knowledge that Mary sets off to see Elizabeth and that’s where our reading picks up today. We’re told Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country. We know that Mary was in Nazareth and that the Judean hill country was around 80 miles away, and the journey to Elizabeth would not have been a casual undertaking. Mary went with intention, with determination, and it is with her arrival that we have the first proclamation of the coming of Christ. It comes from Elizabeth as she is filled with the Holy Spirit at Mary’s greeting: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” And we are told that as she heard Mary’s greeting the child in her womb, John the Baptist, leaped for joy. The prophet’s work had begun.
And then, Elizabeth offers another offers another proclamation: “And blessed is she who believed that there would be fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” You see, it would have been easy for Mary to not have believed. When the angel came to her and told her the marvelous, miraculous things that were to happen, I can imagine her confusion, her fear. We’re told that she was greatly perplexed and that the angel assures her and tells her not to be afraid, but here she is, a young, unwed virgin who is told she is to be with child—and not just any child but the Son of God. This is news that would shake up anyone, awesome responsibility for anyone, let alone this very young, poor woman. But her response confirms this glorious new beginning: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Blessed is she who believed that there would be fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord. And it’s then that Mary proclaims her blessings, proclaims God’s mercy to us.
Several years ago, when I was serving as a hospital chaplain in the city I was making my rounds one evening and as I walked down the hall I was stopped in my tracks as I heard a beautiful, clear voice singing: “My soul proclaims to greatness of the Lord, my sprit rejoices in God my Saviour”—the Magnificat that we hear today. It was coming from a room just ahead and I paused outside and listened. As she came to the end, I lightly knocked on the open door and stepped in. Propped in the bed was a young woman, who I would later learn was from Liberia. She had in her lap an open Prayer Book and was doing evening prayer. I introduced myself and asked if she minded if I joined her. When we finished the prayer, I stayed and we talked for a bit. I learned, as I said, that she was from Liberia and had been in the US for only a couple years when she was involved in an accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Recently, she had been experiencing a related degenerative nerve condition that was causing chronic pain and had a couple days previous undergone surgery that was expected to relieve her suffering. It hadn’t helped much, she said.
In spite of all this, what I remember most clearly was the brightness of her spirit. She was largely alone in this country, except for a brother. The outlook for her condition was, at best, that she wouldn’t lose mobility any more than what she had already experienced. And yet, she had joy. I heard it in her voice as she sang the prayer, and, to this day, I feel that joy myself each time I hear the Song of Mary. It’s the joy, the light, that God has put in us and that we have been kindling in these weeks of waiting.
What we recognize today is God’s joy implanted, gestating in Mary, the theotokas, the God-bearer. When the angel Gabriel came to her to tell her that she will bear the baby Jesus he did not present it as a question or as a request, but Mary implicitly answers, yes, with her whole body, her whole Self, and her yes is a yes, for us all.
God calls each of us to servanthood, to be bearers of God’s love in our own unique ways, to be bearers of God’s love in the world as we are each called to use the gifts and talents of our whole self as created in God’s image.
I often talk of two attitudes that are often at odds in our lives: willfulness and willingness. Willfulness is the very human tendency to exert our own will on our surroundings, on people, on the earth; at work, in worship and prayer even. It may not be an outright, no, to what is given to us or a, “no,” to what we are called; it may be more of a “yes, but. . . .” I think all of us, myself at the least can hear ourselves, remember ourselves answering, “yes, but . . . “
Willingness is all yes. Mary embodies this for us in her carrying of the baby Jesus. Mary embodies this in her acceptance and embrace of the very difficult task to which God calls her. Her words in the Gospel and in the prayer they inspire summon in us the same attitude of gratitude, the same attitude of willingness, that Mary embodied. Mary’s song of gratitude and praise is our song.
OUR souls proclaim the greatness of the Lord and OUR spirits rejoice in God OUR savior for he HAS looked with favor on US, his lowly servants. And we are blessed. Mary’s words continue to list God’s actions in the world, continue to proclaim God’s love as manifest in history. Like Mary, we are bearers of that love. As we prepare to go forth from these walls may we all remember that. May we all be aware that God’s power in us is a light to those we encounter. That is what we are called to say, “yes,” to. Like Mary, and like the young woman I met in the hospital, we are bearers of God’s love. That’s the glorious beginning that awaits us.
I’m going to close with a quote for you to ponder from the 13th century German mystic, Meister Eckhart: “We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And what good is it if Mary is full of grace but I am not also full of grace? What good is it for the Creator to give birth to a Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When Christ is begotten in us.”