When a mother is expecting a baby all the focus is on the mother. She gets loads of advice – ‘be careful’, ‘don’t lift that’ and ‘don’t forget the afternoon nap’. Once the baby is born the mother recedes into the background, and now the attention is on the baby – ‘who does she look like?’ ‘what name will you give him?’ …and so on. So on the last Sunday before Christmas the Gospel is always about Mary, the mother. This year the Gospel is the story of the visit of Mary to her cousin, Elizabeth.
It is interesting that Mary is even more honoured in the Eastern Orthodox Church than she is in the Catholic West. In the West, after the 16th century reformation, many Protestants stopped honouring Mary. Shrines were levelled, thousands of stained glass windows were broken, statues of Mary shattered, pictures of the Madonna burnt. Not all Protestants disowned Mary. Probably the most frequently quoted line about her is William Wordworth’s, in which he refers to her as ‘our tainted nature’s solitary boast’. Martin Luther had a deep lifelong devotion to Mary. He even kept a picture of her on his desk, though many Lutherans seem unaware of this.
All Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant, like to meditate on the Magnificat, a prayerful song that brims over with anger at the way the world is tilted against the poor. It is Mary’s cry for justice: He has filled the hungry with good things/ And sent the rich away empty. This is Mary who inspires us to challenge injustice.
(reflection by Alex McAllister)
The two pregnant women in our Gospel today are very different in age, yet both full of joy and concern for each other. Mary goes to visit Elizabeth because of her advanced age and the attendant dangers of so late a pregnancy. This visit is a clear sign of Mary’s generosity and goodness. Through the light of the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth recognised Mary’s privilege as the mother of Christ. She greets her in the words we are so familiar with in the Hail Mary. And Mary responds in the equally familiar words of the Magnificat.
These two great women understand the miracle of conception and birth. But in each case there was a direct intervention of God in a truly exceptional way. The Gospel tells us that both were informed of this fact by the words of an angel-they each had a direct message from God telling them so.
But God uses the extraordinary to highlight the significance of the ordinary. The fact that these two women had this extraordinary intervention only demonstrates that our own lives too are a gift of God-what you could call an ordinary intervention if you like. It is from this understanding that the Church takes its position on all life issues.
At particular moments we might recognise the hand of God in our lives. Maybe it was when we felt we had a priestly or religious vocation or when we finally decided on our partner in marriage. Maybe it was in the birth of a child, a change in job circumstances, or the death of a parent. Maybe it was a moment in prayer, the grace of a sacrament, advice in the confessional, wise words from a friend or relative at a critical moment.
God continues to work with us and for us. He takes the long view and there are periods of seeming barrenness, seeming aloneness. But these are all part of that gestation period which is life on earth. We were born into this world and we will be reborn into eternal life.
Every now and then like John the Baptist we leap in this womb of ours, which is our life on earth. Every now and then we recognise God’s presence, just as John recognised Jesus’ presence, and we leap with joy. But life is constantly moving on and God is always with us. He caused us to come into being, he sustains and feeds us, and he will welcome us into life eternal. We celebrate a birth at Christmas — a birth, a life, a death and a resurrection.
Live the Lullaby
Luke 1:39-45, (46-55)
Every baby will keep every parent up all night, at least once. It's a rule. Whether because they are teething or colicky, anxious or tummy-troubled, or just plain fussy, it's part of a baby's mission in life to keep its parents awake weeping and wailing.
We parents are "hard-wired" to respond to an infant's cries. What has kept us grieving all week, a grief that can't be spoken? What has kept our hearts hurting all week, a pain that won't go away? When an infant or child is in trouble, or hurt, or killed, both our right and left brains insist we must do something to "fix" the situation. If our hearts melt at the mere sound of a distressed infant, how much more do our hearts overflow in anguish at the sight of children being harmed or in harm's way â€“ even if our own nerve endings are jangling and cross-firing.
Before there were "white noise" recordings, washing machines, or long car rides to soothe the plaintive cries of a child, parents in every culture on the planet came up with the same plan to quiet a crying child â€” lullabies. Sweet melodies, slowly cadenced, softly sung, lullabies "lull" little ones into a dreamy place. They also have almost lulled me to my doom. One of my favorite CDs is Tom Wasinger's "The World Sings Goodnight," which I have downloaded into the playlist of my truck. These 33 lullabies are from all over the world - Bolivia, Indonesia, Poland, Russia, Ethiopia, Japan, Egypt, India, Algeria, Iran, to name a few other than the more obvious ones from the US and Canada. My problem is that as I'm barreling down the highway listening to these lullabies, I'm also being lulled to sleep...