Fourth Sunday of Advent

When I was very young and on the football team representing St. Antoninus school on the WEST side of Cincinnati, one of our arch rivals was Visitation Catholic school.  Their uniforms were powder blue in a time when most schools had basic colors of navy blue, red, black or gold.  This color caught my eye and when I inquired why Vis, as we called them for short, had the light colored blue uniforms I was told by a  boy a couple of grades above me, “It’s the color of Mary, stupid.”

    I still didn’t make a connection between Mary and Visitation, and in taking my quandary to my dear mother Pat, she offered a kind and comforting response as only she could. Mom said, “Oh honey, Mary often wears light blue so we can recognize her when she visits us.”

     The story we hear from the Gospel of Luke this week hopefully speaks to us on a number of levels. In a classic way we hear of two women, both surprisingly pregnant. One is Mary at the very beginning of her child bearing years and the other, her cousin Elizabeth at the end of her child bearing years.

     We appreciate the haste of Mary’s journey, and comfort from an older wiser cousin. Mary’s greeting to Elizabeth causes the baby in her womb, John the Baptist, to leap and stir. That inspires Elizabeth to proclaim in a loud voice how blessed Mary is and how blessed the baby Jesus is in her womb.

     Because of the redactive nature of all scripture, and thus this story, it is written long after this visit is made so as to emphasize its impact on the world. Elizabeth names Mary “the mother of my Lord.”  That is certainly worth reflecting on. The older wiser cousin has lofty hopes and dreams for her own child, yet recognizes that there will be no child born with more impact than the baby that Mary is holding in her womb. Time tells us this. As a matter of fact, we are told this time and time again.

     Elizabeth recalls to Mary the stirring feeling that she had when hearing her greeting and again names Mary as blessed because she believed that the promise made to her by God, carried by the Angel Gabriel, would be fulfilled. The story that unfolded, the story of the ages, proved that to be true.

     It is a story that was predicted often in the Old Testament, but this week we hear from the prophet Micah who tells us that tiny Bethlehem, the place of Jesus’ birth, shall  give us a giant ruler, a ruler as our second reading from Hebrews says, “… comes to do your will oh God.” And by that will we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus once and for all.

     I am at liberty to emphasize the kindness of Mary, perpetuated by my mom, in applying the Vis to our lives. Let us recognize Mary’s blessedness when she visits us.

     The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth and to us is the result of a short pilgrimage that she makes into the hill country above Nazareth. Mary stays with Elizabeth for the final three months of her pregnancy and is present to help Elizabeth when she gives birth to John the Baptist. Mary then returns to Nazareth and she and Joseph will make their own pilgrimage to Bethlehem to give birth to Jesus. 

     This Christmas story is filled with travel, visits, journey and destinations. There is so much we can apply to our Adventures in Grace Pilgrimage. This story is filled with the tender support of cousins, the world and dramatic charisma of John the Baptist who journeys from the desert to fulfill a prediction from the great prophet Isaiah long before.

     Mary, Joseph and Jesus will make a different kind of journey to Egypt shortly after his birth, one that is more fleeing than pilgrimage because of the vicious and insecure Roman king who will seek to destroy Jesus and destroys many other innocent children in the process.

     As always, please take some time to make connections between your pilgrimage and that of the characters in scripture. Periodically, let others visit you on their way. Invite Mary into your pilgrimage, and not only do I assure you, but my own kind and gentle mother Pat assures you, that Mary will visit us. Let’s be sure to recognize her and, when she greets us, let us trust the Grace that will stir in the deepest part of us.

      Please take advantage of the many resources that we have worked so hard at providing for you along your way of pilgrimage. May the blessings of connecting your pilgrimage with those in the Christmas story bring you more grace than ever.

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