Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 19, 2021
We conclude this Advent season with the beautiful story of The Visitation. Scripture scholars suggest different reasons why a young pregnant girl would subject herself to the rigors of a long journey across rough terrain to visit an elderly cousin who is also pregnant. One of the most convincing suggestions cites charity as the primary motivation.
Building on that reasoning, it has also been suggested that The Visitation was, in fact, the very first Christian missionary venture. In other words, what we hear proclaimed today is the description of the first time that Christ is brought to someone in need.
Imagining Mary as the first Christian missionary brings to my mind a friend. Many years ago, in the early years of her religious life, she was summoned to the superior’s office. Much to her surprise, it was announced that after some training as a nurse/midwife, she would travel to another continent with other nuns from her religious community. There, they would become part of a team, joining other American Catholic missionaries charged with the enormous task of founding a maternity hospital. The desperately needed facility was to be located in an impoverished area, a day’s bus ride from the capitol city.
Over the next half-century, the team dwindled in numbers even as the clinic they founded grew. Today, my dear friend and another sister from her community are all that remain from the original group. But the clinic they helped to found, and continue to oversee, is thriving.
The passage from Luke’s Gospel proclaimed on this final Sunday of Advent has inspired, and continues to inspire, some of the most beautiful works of art. The most successful of which…the true masterpieces, that is… portray the encounter between Mary and Elizabeth in such a way that JOY radiates from the canvas. Without JOY, there is no masterpiece.
But, if you happen to be in a museum and allow yourself more than a quick glance at such a painting, you begin to sense that this encounter sparked another emotion as well. RELIEF! The women were relieved to be in each other’s company because only they were able to affirm for one another the validity of the extraordinary experiences that had befallen them.
Who else would believe that a messenger from heaven had brought a special invitation to them from God?
Who else would appreciate the surge in faith required to accept this summons to serve….to say YES, BE IT DONE UNTO ME ACCORDING TO YOUR WILL?
Who else could empathize with the circumstances of their respective pregnancies…Elizabeth, well beyond childbearing years, and, of course…Mary…an unwed virgin?
I think possibly my friend the missionary sister can fully believe, appreciate, and empathize with the high drama of the meeting of these two women so many centuries ago.
There was definitely JOY as well as RELIEF when she met the other members of her team. There was JOY and RELIEF as they set out to accomplish what they had been sent to do…mixed, of course, with the appreciation for the magnitude of the task in front of them.
There was and continues to be JOY and RELIEF every time a baby is safely delivered at their clinic. There is JOY and RELIEF as generous donors support their ministry and their facility modernizes and grows. There is JOY in knowing that their lives have been committed to something so critical to so many…and RELIEF that they were graced with the strength of faith to say YES!
Artists, capable of capturing the sense of JOY and RELIEF in the faces of Mary and Elizabeth produce great works. But it takes disciples like my friend to produce a true masterpiece. It takes a life of faithful discipleship to reproduce a true image of The Visitation.
HOWEVER, my friend would be the first to tell you that there is no need to travel to the other side of the equator to enter into the mystery of this magnificent encounter and to know this overwhelming sense of JOY and this RELIEF.
Every time we accept the opportunity to bring Christ to someone in need…and have the strength of faith to say YES, the reward is JOY…together with the sense of RELIEF that comes from knowing that we are doing God’s will.
We move into the Christmas Season with a sense of JOY in knowing that Christ our Savior is born…and RELIEF…that He will return in glory. All this because a young girl said YES! We can hold on to those feelings throughout the year if we strive to be domestic missionaries…always searching for ways to bring Christ to others.
The challenge for each of us is to make our own lives a masterpiece!