Homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent Year C 2021
Periodically, I will buy a lotto ticket. Looking through my wallet this late Tuesday night, I discovered a ticket that I had not checked. So I did and it was a winner! I won big! Yes! I was so surprised… that I woke up… !
Since the beginning of Advent, various characters have appeared to us in the gospel stories: Joseph, John the Baptist, Zachariah, and now Mary and her cousin, Elizabeth. Each one of these people had a ‘surprise’ encounter with God. And when that happens, they are changed forever.
Today in the Gospel we have another surprise: Elizabeth and the baby that she is carrying is surprised by the sudden appearance of cousin Mary who has come to visit her. We know this story as the Visitation. This is the story of two women, one much older than the other and both are pregnant for the first time, bearing new life within them under unusual circumstances. Besides the dangers of their situation, the infant leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb when she hears Mary’s greeting. For both of these women, life as they know it has changed forever, because God has entered their lives. Surprise!
No doubt both women must have had many questions and anxieties about what was happening to them. So what do they do, they did what women before them and what women do today-they get together for strength and security. Having 3 sisters and 3 sister-in-laws and now the next generation…. my nieces and nephew’s wives are having babies. In my younger years, having worked with may up to 40 young women or more at one time at IOL, and now in parish ministry, I’ve been around many expecting mothers:
First we hear, “I’m pregnant!” After the initial surprise and joy comes the stress, anxiety, change in body size and shape, and so on! But when these babies come full term and are delivered, everyone connected to that baby… their lives are changed forever. We know that the birth of any child is not so much the end of a pregnancy as the beginning of a lifetime. So it is with Jesus’ birth. His birth, his life, his self-sacrifice ushered in more than a lifetime… for us it is for eternity… an eternity of salvation.
My dear friends, Advent is at full term and the readings that we are given are filled surprise and with the hope. First Reading, from Micah tells us that from Bethlehem, a no place town, will come forth a great ruler…he shall be peace.
And in the Gospel, again 2 pregnant women sharing their fears and anxieties but as well, their happiness and joys. Elizabeth will birth John the Baptist who will go before or prepare the way for the Lord and then we have Mary who will bear the Christ. And yet both women knew that the God of surprise had something greater than themselves in mind here.
I remember while in the seminary as we studied this particular passage, I was surprised to learn that the journey that Mary took to the “hill country” was not an easy one and it was not a short walk. No doubt she would have caught a ride in a rough wagon without springs, bouncing around and pregnant herself. And yet, during her visit, the hill country for both women would have been surrounded by fruit trees of figs, apples, pears, pomegranates, and walnuts, mirroring the fruitfulness of their friendship, faith, hope and courage
God was present to these two women in a very special way but they trusted in God. And from their trust or surrender, they both bore fruit. But our surrender to God is no less fruitful. Surprise… every time we reach out with a helping hand, God is present. Look at the gifts collected for Lonewater Farms or those who will donate to the Empty Stocking Fund, area food banks, or turkey drives or those who help keep those who are not here with us connected to our community or those who will help decorate our worship space for the Christmas season. It is through these giving hearts and working hands that our God… our God of surprise is ever present to us… this is the crux of the Christmas mystery. Yes we celebrate a birthday of new life but the surprise is that this birthday never ends… it keeps unfolding in us everyday of our year… Emmanuel… God with us. For all eternity. Amen.