Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 23, 2012
Today we have the beautiful story of the Visitation. The word visitation has a variety of meanings and can have positive or negative connotations. And yet, when we look at the word Visitation in light of this Gospel passage, our understanding of the experience of visitation takes on a particular shape. This encounter between Mary and Elizabeth can teach us a lot about how our visitations, our encounters with others should be.
Let us reflect for a moment on this special visitation. Mary sets out to visit Elizabeth so that she can share the good news of Jesus. Looking at it in another way we can say that Mary literally took Jesus to Elizabeth. Elizabeth, paying attention to the movement within and recognizing the Presence in Mary responds with praise and thanksgiving. In this experience of visitation we have a giving and receiving of the good news of Christ, a recognition, and a response of praise and thanksgiving.
How would the visitations in our life look if they took on the shape of this holy visitation? What would it be like if when we encounter another we try to bring to the other and receive from them the good news of Jesus Christ? What if we let go of the obstacles that stop us from recognizing the presence of Christ in another? And how would we be changed if we gave praise and thanksgiving for the many people who bring the good news of Jesus Christ to us.
Last Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary there was a visitation of an evil kind and great tragedy ensued. The ripple effects of this tragedy will be felt forever. For some it is very close because they lost someone near to their very heart. For all of us though it was the realization of how one person can visit such evil and change the course of life forever. As I listen to the stories that keep flowing out of the little town of Newtown, I have been touched by the beautiful visitations that have happened even in the midst of such evil.
The teacher who put her students in a closet and before she closed the closet to hide them from the gunman told them how much she loved them. Later she said that if they were to have died she wanted “I love you” to be the last words they heard.
Or the retired psychologist who took care of students who had fled from the school in horror. He just sat with them and listened to them as they waited for their parents.
The pastor of St. Rose of Lima parish who wept with his parishioners as
they received the news of the loss of so many of their loved ones.
The same pastor who said to his parishioners on the following Sunday that “we have to let all the world see the faith of the parish of St. Rose of Lima. For this faith, that has been so apparent to many during these last few heart- wrenching days, is not something new for the people of this church
. . . it is not something made up … or recently put on. Your Catholic faith is who you are; your faith defines you. I can attest to this personally,” he said, “because of the profound way your faith has transformed my own life.”
These stories of visitation in our day echo the beautiful visitation story of the Gospel we just heard. The teacher brought Jesus to those children in the form of her words of love. The retired psychologist received the presence of Christ in the form of those frightened children. And the pastor of St. Rose of Lima parish responded to his people’s faith with praise and thanksgiving.
The powerful story of the Visitation we celebrate in the Gospel this Fourth Sunday of Advent is celebrated in our lives and in the lives of those people in Newtown who are experiencing such grief. Maybe we can commit ourselves this Christmas to being a little more attentive to the many opportunities we have for visitations in our life and may they help us bring the good news of Christ to others. And, when someone reaches out to us, may we recognize the Christ in them and respond with praise and thanksgiving. Just as Mary had to set out and travel to the hill country, we might have to climb the hill of our prejudices and struggles with other people and ask God to help us make space for all people. This Christmas let us make this powerful story of the Visitation come alive and may we all be changed because of it.