December 21, 2003 (Luke 1:39-45)
The purpose of Christianity, the meaning of life, the goal of the spiritual life, and the answer to all our questions is love. Jesus says over and over again that he wants us to love one another, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to love God with all our hearts and souls and mind and strength, to love as he loves us, to love even our enemies. Christmas is all about love because God loves us so much that God wants to be with us and become one of us. Advent is about love, too, about opening our hearts in a spirit of love to God’s loving action in our lives and our world.
Today, we hear this beautiful story of love, the story of the Visitation, and I just want to point a few things about the Visitation–about love, about their greetings of peace, about spiritual conversation, and about blessing one another. You recall how the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her in the Annunciation that she was to become the mother of Jesus, and after the angel left, Mary set off immediately to reach out in love for her neighbor Elizabeth. So the first thing I notice about the story of the Visitation is love. Mary loves her neighbor in need. She goes to help Elizabeth. I think Jesus learned from his mother that the first step in the spiritual life is to love your neighbor. Mary prepares for the coming of Jesus by loving her neighbor Elizabeth. That’s we have to do too.
So Mary sets off and makes the difficult journey through the desert to Elizabeth and what does she do when she reaches Elizabeth? We are told she gives a “greeting,” which fills Elizabeth with joy. What did Mary say? She would have given the traditional Jewish greeting, “Shalom!” which means, “Peace be with you.” And we remember that when Jesus rose from the dead, he said three times, “Peace be with you.” So he would have learned this from his mother. Mary and Jesus always speak words of love and peace to one another and everyone. Mary does not go to Elizabeth to complain, to say, “You wouldn’t believe what happened to me now!” She does not go to gossip and ask, “Did you hear what Fr. John did now?” She does not go in a spirit of jealousy or envy or resentment or bitterness or anger. Mary speaks words of love and peace which causes even the child in Elizabeth’s womb to jump for joy.
Then, notice that these two holy pregnant women start telling their stories to each other. They share their experience of God. They start talking about what God is doing in their lives and this leads to consolation. This is an important lesson. Mary and Elizabeth call us to be people of “spiritual conversation,” to talk about God, to tell one another what God is doing in our lives, to tell our spouses and our families where we find God. It’s so important to speak about God’s presence in our lives, because if we do, our relationships and friendships and love will deepen and we build community with each other. We need to talk about God, to ask each other “What is God doing in your life? Where is God active in your life? Where do you find God?” If we engage in this spiritual conversation, we too will be consoled with joy.
Finally, we notice that when Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting of peace, she starts shouting out three beautiful beatitudes: “Blessed are you! Blessed is your child! Blessed is the one who believed in God!” There’s another great lesson here. When we reach out with love to our neighbor in need; when we speak words of peace to one another; when we say yes to God; when we believe in God and trust in God and do what God wants; we will be greatly blessed. We will receive beatitudes. I think Jesus learned his beatitudes from his mother.
My hope and prayer is that you and your families have a blessed, holy and Merry Christmas, that despite what the world says and does, you will reach out in love toward those in need, that you will speak only words of peace, that you will focus on the good things God is doing, and that you will bless one another always.
Today, I offer you my beatitudes and say, “Blessed are you, who say like Mary, Yes to God. Blessed are you this advent as you prepare for the coming of Christ. Blessed are you when you reach out in love for one another, when you love your neighbor in need. Blessed are you when you speak words of peace to one another. Blessed are you when you tell each other the good things God is doing in your lives. Blessed are you when you welcome Jesus into you lives, this week at Christmas, right now at this altar, and for the rest of your lives!