Mary, a young teenager, has learned through the Holy Spirit that she is to bear a child. She sets out to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who in her old age has also conceived a child—John the Baptist. When Mary arrives, Elizabeth says, “the infant in my womb leaped for joy”. John the Baptist leaped for joy because Jesus the Christ was there.
Luke’s story of Mary, the perfect disciple, has several important lessons for us. The story has a clear sense of urgency to it. Luke says that Mary proceeded in haste. There was no time to waste. The good news had to be shared. And so it is with us on this final Sunday of Advent. There is a spirit of urgency in the Church’s liturgy today. If we have heard the message proclaimed on the previous Sundays of Advent, then we are right on the edges of our pews awaiting what is to come in a few days. We have heard John the Baptist urge us to make straight the way of the Lord, to clear away everything that keeps us from receiving the good news.
But urgency must not be confused with “frenzy.” We could use the word frenzy to describe preparation for the holiday season. That is not what we are doing. For Christians, we are preparing for Christmas and we have a sense of “make haste slowly.” We will hear today in the media that there are only two days until Christmas, meaning we have only two days to buy more and more. I urge you to practice a little gentle resistance when you hear that urging. Remind yourselves that there are just two days left of Advent. We are to use these days to prepare to receive the good news.
Mary teaches another important lesson for Advent preparation. We are reminded of the importance of believing. Elizabeth says of Mary, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled”. Our own inability to believe in the good news may be one obstacle we face at this time of year. In many ways our Western consumer-oriented society conditions us to trust in material things and not in the good news of Christ’s coming. We get flu shots this time of year to protect against influenza, when the real affliction we have to guard against is affluenza—the urge to be affluent, the desire to buy more, bigger, and seemingly better things. Jesus is the perfect medicine for affluenza. On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, believe that Jesus is the right answer.
Mary, the perfect disciple, also teaches us that Christ is the perfect gift. Luke speaks of no material gifts that Mary brought to Elizabeth. She brought only her trusting presence and, by being fully present, revealed Christ.
There are signs that something is stirring in our culture about the real meaning of this season. The Christian Science Monitor reported a survey showing that 70 percent of Americans would welcome less Christmas spending and gift giving. The article reports that “from Seattle to Washington, D.C., growing numbers of families are giving more thought to focusing on what makes Christmas meaningful to them.”
We can make Christ present in the greetings we send and in the purchases we make or don't make. And, we can be fully present in listening to God’s word and in receiving the Eucharist. Be fully present to those around you these final days of Advent, trust in the good news, and you will find Christ, the perfect gift.
The purpose of Christmas is not for us to be happy; rather, it is for us to make God happy, even jubilant. It's not about what we "get for Christmas," but what Jesus, the Son of God, gets for His birthday. We give Jesus what He wants and make Him happy by giving Him ourselves, our lives, our love, and by inviting others to do the same.
Let us prepare to joyfully celebrate the birth of Christ.