I hope to do some little reflections here throughout the Christmas season. Today I want to begin with something that struck me deeply from the Advent lectionary readings.
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 fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord’ (Luke 1:39-45).
During Advent this year, I was more struck by the Visitation than I ever have been before. I think it is because, like Elizabeth, I am in my sixth month of pregnancy. Sometimes accidental resemblances can be very powerful!
On the fourth Sunday of Advent, the presider where I attended began his homily by asking what sets apart the Visitation from any other visit from one pregnant woman to another. “Women have been doing this for centuries,” he observed. “What makes this visit so unusual?”
The priest’s conclusion was that it was John the Baptist’s leap in the womb at Mary’s greeting that was the miraculous event at this visit. I have to disagree. You see, I am currently in my sixth month too, and the baby leaps constantly, responding to noises from without — or to her own mysterious impulses, of which I know nothing.
The marvel of the Visitation, at least for me, this year, is that Elizabeth recognized John’s leap in the womb as a leap of joy at the presence of the Savior among us, and that she interpreted this for all generations to follow. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Elizabeth did not receive an angelic visitor to prepare her, and her husband was speechless. It fell on her to listen and, with the strength of the Holy Spirit, to interpret.
This is a moment of prophecy. The prophets of the Old Testament led the people by looking at the seemingly ordinary events of the world and recognizing God’s work among them for his people. Cyrus of Persia may have been a pagan, but in a revolutionary burst of insight that must have been shocking, Isaiah identifies him as the Lord’s instrument for the salvation of the remnant of Judah (Isaiah 45:1-7). In so doing, Isaiah not only gave witness to God’s work for his own generation, but also laid the groundwork for the equally shocking recognition, in the womb and the manger, of the Prince of Peace.
Where does new birth leap within you this Christmas season?
Holy Spirit, grant us the wisdom to see and welcome your subtle transformation of our everyday into your abundant life.