On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we are invited to revisit, in faith, the mystery of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. I deliberately say “mystery”, because there is more than meets the eye, because the love that animates this encounter is eternal. It is, therefore, a mystery.
St. Ambrose (+397), who ranks with Saints Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory the Great as one of the Latin Doctors of the Church, who is traditionally credited with composing the hymn Te Deum, prayerfully and carefully considers this encounter:
Elizabeth is the first to hear Mary’s voice, but John is the first to be aware of grace. She hears with the ears of the body, but he leaps for joy at the mystery. She is aware of Mary’s presence, but he is aware of the Lord’s: a woman aware of a woman’s presence, the forerunner aware of the pledge of our salvation. The women speak of the grace they have received while the children are active in secret, unfolding the mystery of love with the help of their mothers, who prophesy by the spirit of their sons.
In these last few days before Christmas, as we reach the threshold of the Christmas season, and we are surrounded by the panic of remaining shopping sprees for impossible gifts, and of preparations for holiday entertainment, I invite you to spend some quiet time, close to Mary, asking her to help you, as she does so well, to “treasure all these words and ponder them in your heart” (Luke 2:19), to cherish the presence of the Lord within. In so doing, we purify our hearts and thus prepare for His coming. As the same St. Ambrose so lovingly exhorts,
Let Mary’s soul be in each of you to proclaim the greatness of the Lord. Let her spirit be in each to rejoice in the Lord. Christ has only one mother in the flesh, but we all bring forth Christ in faith. Every soul receives the Word of God if only it remains pure. The soul that succeeds in this proclaims the greatness of the Lord, just as Mary’s soul magnified the Lord and her spirit rejoiced in God her Savior. In another place we read: Magnify the Lord with me. The Lord is magnified, not because the human voice can add anything to God but because he is magnified within us. Christ is the image of God, and if the soul does what is right and holy, it magnifies that image of God, in whose likeness it was created and, in magnifying the image of God, the soul has a share in its greatness and is exalted.
I look forward to celebrating Christmas with you. If you will be traveling, I wish you an abundance of blessings. Trust that the Lord will work in and through you—even in the most complex of holiday situations! The Lord be with you.
Faithfully in Him,
From the desk of the Rector