December 19, 2021
Fourth Sunday of Advent, year C
The passage from today’s Gospel (Lk 1:39-45) narrates the meeting between Mary and Elizabeth; it’s with this passage that we enter the week of Christmas, and so let us listen to it with particular attention, allowing the Word to accompany us in welcoming into our lives the Lord Who always comes.
It’s the episode that immediately follows the account of the Annunciation, an important detail because we can directly say that the Annunciation is the preamble to the Visitation. It is the introduction, and the promise: the encounter with the Lord is the precondition for the possibility of one to meet the other, to have encounters and authentic relationships with each other. Those who have received the visit of the Lord’s open up, bloom, set off on a journey, no longer afraid: they with the certainty that the Lord is there with them. And this is what transforms life.
The story of the Annunciation to Mary is in contrast with that of Zechariah, who however does not believe, and asks for signs to be able to trust: as a consequence of this attitude, Zachariah remains dumb, deaf, closed in himself. For Mary, on the contrary, a new way of life begins, which is all contained in the adverb that we find in v. 39: quickly.
“Quickly” is an Paschal adverb, which tells of urgency, the explosion of life that happens to those who recognize that they have been saved. The jolt that will reach John in the womb of Elizabeth (Lk 1:41) has its origin here, in the haste of Mary starting with her own experience of salvation to meet the other.
Mary, touched and transformed by grace, meets Elisabeth who has had the same experience.
What experience? That of a God Who made their wombs fruitful in a way that only He can do. That is salvation. And when we have been saved like that, we recognize each other without needing too many words, too many explanations: Mary says nothing, except a simple greeting (Lk 1:40), and now Elizabeth has within herself new criteria for interpreting the life of Mary.
The text says that she was full of the Holy Spirit, so her words are the words of a prophetess, capable of interpreting the signs of God’s presence in Mary. She never calls her by name but defines her with three titles that always put her in relation to God, to what God has done in her: this is the new believers’ gaze and the unique way in which believers encounter one another.
First of all, she says that Mary is blessed (Lk 1:42): blessing in the Bible is always linked to the gift of life, and God blesses precisely because He gives life, because He multiplies it, guards it, and does all this by His active and creative Word. Elizabeth sees Mary in this action of God, within this blessing that began with the creation of the world, and that has never diminished.
Then she calls her “mother of my Lord” (Lk 1:43): Mary is no longer just a woman, she no longer has just her name. The name of Mary, her identity, is that of being a mother from this time: thus Elizabeth recognizes her and defines her in her prophecy. And not just any mother, but the mother “of my Lord,” so Elizabeth is the first to sound in the gospel the word “kurios,” Lord, the Gospel title, one that is proper to the Risen One, to the One Who conquered death. And again, not simply the mother of the Lord, but the mother of my Lord: mother of the God Who also saved me, Who took away my shame, Who gave me mercy.
And finally, she speaks of Mary as “she who believed” (Lk 1:45). God’s work is to bless and save; man’s work is to believe in God, who blesses and saves. When this happens, man is blessed, that is, he experienced his humanity fully. Mary is precisely this, a new woman who first trusted and believed that God’s work in her was a blessing, was life.
Today’s passage stops here, but the Gospel continues with the canticle of the Magnificat: Mary, confirmed by her cousin Elizabeth, sings. And she sings the action of God in history, which is a paradoxical paschal action, visible only to those who have faith. Those who have faith already see this new world, just as Elizabeth sees the Lord Jesus hidden and present in Mary’s womb.
The Birth of Jesus is already upon us: and we have a chance to welcome Him as Elizabeth greeted Mary, with the gaze of faith, which enabled her to see God’s blessing again in the work of history with His coming.
And like Elizabeth, we too are given, through the coming of the Lord, the gift to be amazed and to rejoice.