Every year on the last Sunday of Advent, the Sunday before the Nativity, the lectionary presents us with a gospel concerning the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is the Church’s reminder that the time of our salvation is approaching.
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’ (Luke 1:39-45)
Through the lives of two pregnant women this text offers powerful imagery of our approaching salvation Elizabeth is old; too old to be pregnant. She should be barren but, by the grace of God, she is pregnant. Mary is young and a virgin; too young to be pregnant but, by the grace of God, she is. One is married the other unmarried. One’s child is the son of a man named Zechariah; the other’s child is the Son of God. One will give birth to the Voice who will cry out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” The other will give birth to the Word made flesh. Yes, the time of our salvation is drawing near.
This year’s gospel is generally referred to as the Visitation. Mary spends three months with Elizabeth (Luke 1:56). Luke, however, never tells us about their visit. He offers no information about what they did, where they went, what they spoke about, or how they spent their time. Instead, Luke’s sole focus is on the greetings that take place. Sacred iconography portrays this greeting as one of embrace. But it is more than a simple hug and a “hello.”
At the sound of Mary’s greeting Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. She recognizes and greets more than her younger cousin. She embraces the divinity carried inside Mary. She recognizes Mary as the Mother of her Lord. On this day Elizabeth greets salvation. At the sound of Mary’s greeting John, the forerunner, leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb – the unborn prophet greeting the unborn Messiah. Together Elizabeth and John, by their greeting, proclaim that the time of our salvation is approaching.
In many ways our own lives are a series of greetings, one after another. Every day we greet one another – family, friends, colleagues, strangers, enemies, and those in need. Everyday we greet the circumstances of our lives – joys, sorrows, successes, disappointments, losses, struggles, the mundane and the exciting. Every one of those greetings is pregnant with new life and the possibilities for love, compassion, forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, joy, beauty, wholeness and holiness. In other words, the greetings of our lives are pregnant with salvation.
So, I wonder, how will we greet the next person we see? How will we receive the most recent news and circumstances of our lives? Will we recognize, greet, and embrace our coming salvation?