This morning’s Gospel presents a striking scene. It describes the meeting of two cousins: one older, one younger, both pregnant. Neither were expecting to have children, so the whole thing has come as a bit of a shock to them both. Mary goes up from Nazareth to Ein Kerem, which is a few miles west of Jerusalem to see Elizabeth. This is a journey that takes about a week on foot. Luke tells us that Mary goes ‘with haste’ (Lk 1:39). She is rushing to her cousin. Mary has good news to share with Elizabeth: she also is going to have a baby! As well as sharing her news, Mary wants to help her cousin prepare for the birth of her child. Both are filled with joy, and love, and care. As Mary enters the house of Zechariah, something amazing happens:
‘And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.’ (Lk 1:41)
Even before he was born, John recognises Jesus, and leaps for joy. John is a prophet, even in his mother’s womb. He announces the presence of the Saviour. This leads Elizabeth to cry out:
‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!’ (Lk 1:42)
Mary is blessed, because she says, ‘Yes’ to God, she accepts God’s invitation to bear the Son of God, the King of Israel, the Saviour of the World. Earlier in Luke’s Gospel the angel Gabriel tells Zechariah that he and Elizabeth will have a son called John. Then Mary is told that she will bear the Son of God, and goes to see Elizabeth. The narrative is fast-paced, with lots happening. Yet, Elizabeth seems to understand the nature of the events. She asks:
‘And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’ (Lk 1:43)
Elizabeth understands that Mary is the Mother of God, and that her unborn child, Jesus is God come among us, Emmanuel. Equally, Elizabeth knows that her baby will be a prophet, who will announce the presence of the Lord and prepare His way before Him. She joyfully declares:
‘For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.’ (Lk 1:44-45)
Mary and Elizabeth trust God to be at work in their lives. They are humble and obedient, and because of this the salvation of humanity can be brought about and announced. Both John the Baptist and Jesus proclaim the Kingdom of God, call people to repent, believe, and be baptised. Their mission starts here with their mothers trusting God’s promises. Mary and Elizabeth demonstrate the humility and obedience which allows to God to be at work in the world, saving His people, made in His image.
This is why we celebrate Christmas. It is the best news the world has ever had. We prepare for it, we get ready, in the season of Advent. Mary stayed three months (Lk1:56) with Elizabeth to help her prepare. They spent time in prayer, and pondered the amazing world-changing events which were about to take place.
There is a beauty in the way that we put lights on trees, like the one on the Village Green, which proclaim by their illumination the coming of the Light of the World. Christ is coming, we should be ready to greet Him. His arrival is prophesied in Scripture. The prophet Micah declares that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem:
‘from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.’ (Micah 5:2)
God’s plan of salvation has always been that Jesus should be born, and all of human history from the Creation onwards has been leading up to this point. In Micah’s words, Christ will:
‘shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.’ (Micah 5:4-5a)
Jesus is the Good Shepherd who cares for us His flock, and lays down His life for us. We can dwell secure because Christ is our peace, and in Him we have the hope of Heaven and the promise of eternal life.
Christ is our Saviour because He shares all our human life, from birth to death. Jesus offers Himself out of love, to take away our sins, to heal our wounds, to restore us. We have, in the words of the Letter to the Hebrews, ‘been sanctified’ (Heb 10:10), made holy. We have been made God’s holy people again. This process continues in the Eucharist. In our communion, whether actual or spiritual, God continues to transform us by His Grace into His likeness.
Our salvation is very close indeed. We can feel it. We know that God keeps His promises. We can prepare to celebrate the Christmas festival with joy, because we know what is about to happen. A baby will be born who will save humanity, whom John the Baptist will recognise as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. This is the Good news we share with the world around us: that God loves us, was born for us, and dies, and rises again, for us. All that Jesus is and says and does, from His taking flesh in the womb of His mother, His Birth, His Life, Death and Resurrection, proclaims God’s love for us. This is what we are preparing to celebrate: God’s love of humanity. God has always loved us, and always will. God is love.
So let us prepare to celebrate that love. May it fill our hearts and minds, so that we live lives of love, proclaiming God’s love, so that all the world come to believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.