"The Visitation" (detail) by Albertinell

“The Visitation” (detail) by Albertinell

Christmas is just two days away. Hopefully, we have all completed our shopping and decorating. Our children have all mailed their letters to Santa! Many of us are completing preparations for our families to gather together to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child.

I just learned that the Saturday before Christmas is called Panic Saturday and nets retailers more sales than Black Friday following Thanksgiving. It is all too easy to become distracted by the hustle and bustle of shopping and parties. So hopefully we have also been attentive to our need to prepare in anticipation of the coming of the Lord. As we approach the Christmas celebration, are we grateful for His coming into the world, ready to invite Him more deeply into our hearts and longing for His return at the end of days?

It is also a time when we recall past Christmas celebrations and the stories of those present at that first Christmas.

I have written many times before and will say it again, from my earliest years, the memories of my mother’s prayers to Our Blessed Mother and her praise and thanksgiving offered to her Lord Jesus still travel across the decades of time and touch my heart. My mom taught me that Our Blessed Mother’s love for me was a love that I could always depend upon; that Mary was always there to guide me to her Son and to keep me secure in the faith. She taught me that I should allow Mary to wrap me in her mantle as she wrapped her Son in His swaddling clothes.

Now I did not always understand what a great gift God gave to us in Mary, but I always remembered what my mom had said.

Like many, as I left my childhood years, I responded more to the call of the secular world and career than to the call of God and my baptismal promises. But, no matter how often I would drift from the faith, my attention would always seem to return to this woman my mother told me I could trust to keep me safe and with the Lord. I remember Mom telling me that when I found it most difficult to say yes to Jesus, I should pray to Mary, reflecting most particularly on the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary.  Mary would help me say “yes” as she had said “yes” when told by the Archangel Gabriel that God wanted her to become His mother.

And so sometimes when I least expected to, I would pray the Rosary and the Memorare; afterwards thanking Jesus for the gift of His Mother; just as my mom had taught me.

Such a small thing, a simple thing, yet such a powerful lesson and prayer handed on to me by my mom.

In our Gospel today, the Church presents to us the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary who more than anyone can teach us the lessons of Advent and the joys of Christmas.

Have you ever pondered what that first Advent was like? I am talking about that time when Mary was carrying the unborn child, Jesus. What did she think? How did she pray? In what way did she prepare? What did she do? Who had God called her to be? And what about the child she carried?

Today’s Gospel story is of the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth in the hill country of Judea and is the Second Joyful Mystery (Luke 1:39-45). So much of what we know about Mary is intended not just to tell us about this greatest of Saints, but more importantly to teach us something about her Son, Jesus.

This Gospel passage draws strong parallels to an earlier story (cf. 2 Samuel 6) that involved King David and the Ark of the Covenant around one thousand years before that first Christmas.

We learn about the Ark of the Covenant in the Book of Exodus. God commanded the Israelites to construct a tabernacle and the Ark. He told them to place within the Ark the manna which had come down from heaven, Aaron’s rod and the stone tablets of the Law. The Ark was placed within the tabernacle tent. And then the glory cloud of God came down and overshadowed the tabernacle, signifying the presence of God.

You will recall the immediately preceding Gospel passage (cf. Luke 1:26-38) on which we meditate for the First Joyful Mystery, the Annunciation, when Gabriel told Mary of God’s plan that she become His mother. The Archangel told Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

Just as God’s glory overshadowed the Ark of the Old Covenant, so too did it overshadow Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant. Just as the Ark of the Old Covenant contained the presence of God, so too would Mary contain within her God become Man. Not only did Mary bear witness to God, she actually bore God.

So let’s return to today’s Gospel passage and look at the parallels with that earlier story concerning David and the Ark of the Covenant.

  • First, David had gone to the Judean hill country, the same area where Mary’s Cousin Elizabeth now lived.
  • Second, he went there to bring the Ark back to Jerusalem after an absence of more than twenty years during which the Philistines had held it captive. And now, in Mary’s time, the Ark of the Old Covenant had been lost for centuries—God’s presence among His people hidden. The return of God is about to be revealed.
  • Third, the Ark of the Old Covenant had traveled to the Judean hill country, just as Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant did when she visited Elizabeth.
  • Fourth, where David asked, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” (2 Samuel 6:9), Elizabeth asked, “And why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43)
  • Fifth, the Ark of the Covenant stayed in the house of Obid-edom for three months; Mary stayed in the house of Zechariah for three months.
  • Sixth, just as David danced before the Lord present in the Ark of the Old Covenant, so too did the unborn John the Baptist leap for joy before the Lord present within Mary.

There is much more in these passages to be learned and meditated upon, but this is a good start.

So, you can see that God gives us a great gift in Mary, for she both bears witness to and brings to us the greatest of God’s gifts—His return as her Son, Jesus.

As we approach the Christmas celebration in a few days, let us ask Mary to bring Him, whom we celebrate in the Eucharist, more deeply into our lives. Ask her to help you say “yes” to her Son.

Into the deep…

The Mass readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year C) are: Micah 5:1-4; Psalms 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45

Deacon Bickerstaff is available to speak at your parish or event. Be sure to check out his Speaker Page to learn more. Into the Deep is a regular feature of the The Integrated Catholic Life™.

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