39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechari′ah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1965, 1966 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
I think Mary and Elizabeth knew just how ridiculous their situation was – two women, one too old to bear a child, one so young she was not yet married, yet called to bear children of promise through whom God would change the world. And they probably knew how little account the world would pay them, tucked away in the hill country of Judea, far from the courts of power and influence. And they probably knew how hard life was under Roman oppression.Yet when faced with the long odds of their situation, they did not retreat, or apologize, or despair, they sang. They sang of their confidence in the Lord’s promise to upend the powers that be, reverse the fortunes of an unjust world,and lift up all those who had been oppressed. When you’re back is to the wall,you see, and all looks grim, one of the most unexpected and powerful things you can do is sing.
Singing of light in a world of darkness is, indeed, nothing short of an act of resistance.
“We light the Advent candles against the winter light,. not “because of,”or “during,” but “against,” reminding us that the light of Advent, like the light of Christ, is a veritable protest to and resistance of the darkness that gathers all around us.
Given how much the darkness seems to have grown in recent weeks, perhaps we might give time to singing the hymns of both of Advent and Christmas. The hymns of both seasons manage to combine the realism of our world with the promise of Christ, and in this sense provide such a needed counterpoint to the dread headlines to which we’re subjected via news outlets,on the one hand, and the falsely cheery “Christmas songs” blared across the cultural airwaves this month on the other.
Caught between the false dichotomy of despair and optimism, Mary and Elizabeth remind us that of another way, the way of hope.Hope, you see, implies circumstances that are dark or difficult enough to require us to look beyond ourselves for rescue and relief so that we might hear again and anew God’s promise to hold onto us through all that might come and bring us victorious to the other side.
However you may celebrate this Fourth Sunday in Advent, give thanks for your voice raised in song and proclamation, announcing that Jesus Christ is the light of the world, that light that shines on in the darkness, the light the darkness has neither understood nor overcome. It is a song worth singing yet again
The archangel Gabriel has extended his astounding invitation. Mary has given her astonishing yes.Now she is alone—suddenly, entirely, dangerously alone—save for the unlikely child she now carries.
She flees: toward her kinswoman, toward refuge, toward sanctuary.
In the home of Elizabeth, in the company of her cousin who is herself pregnant in most unusual circumstances, Mary finds what she most needs. Elizabeth gathers and enfolds her. Welcomes her. Blesses her.
In response to Elizabeth’s blessing, Mary sings. And how she sings! She sings of a God who brings down the powerful, who lifts up the lowly, who fills the hungry with good things.Strangely, wonderfully, Mary sings of a God who not only will do these things, but who has done these things. She sings as if God has already accomplished the redemption and restoration of the world.
O my friends, this is what a blessing has the power to do. The blessing that Elizabeth speaks and enacts through her words, her welcome, her gift of sanctuary: such a blessing has the power to help us, like Mary, speak the word we most need to offer. Such a blessing gives us a glimpse of the redemption that God, in God’s strange sense of time, has somehow already accomplished. Such a blessing stirs up in us the strength to participate with God in bringing about this redemption in this time, in this world.
Where will we go, like Mary, to find and receive such a blessing?
How will we open our heart, like Elizabeth, to offer it?