We find ourselves one week from Christmas, and on this final Sunday of Advent, we hear the story known as the Visitation, when the newly pregnant Mary visits her older and also pregnant cousin Elizabeth. Thus we begin this last week of preparation for Christmas with two women, and their in utero children, front and center, the focus of our attention.
Both women were no doubt a bit surprised to find themselves pregnant. Elizabeth, like many matriarchs featured in the Old Testament, had lived with infertility for her whole marriage, unable to have children and no doubt finding disappointment with each passing month as she grew to old age. Mary, meanwhile, was still young, but not yet married. And yet, despite the unexpectedness of their pregnancies, both women also exhibit a readiness. Elizabeth’s long desire and hope for a child prepared her to receive her pregnancy with John joyfully. Mary was a faithful Jewish woman who knew her tradition well and had been longing for a Messiah. Her love for God and hope for the Messiah enabled her to accept the Angel Gabriel’s greeting willingly, even if there had been a moment of confusion about the details.
Thus we see in both women a readiness to do God’s will. They have both the preparation that comes with living righteous lives and the willingness to accept difficulties, which is characteristic of true courage. In their meeting at this Visitation scene, we have already a witness to the Incarnation, God made man in Jesus, that is fully manifest to us at the Nativity. John the Baptist leaps in the womb; he who is in the spirit of Elijah recognizes the presence of him for whom he will prepare the way. This is more than the meeting of two pregnant women. This is something exciting! The placement of these readings immediately before Christmas aid us in recognizing the significance of Jesus’s birth. Mary’s child is not just any baby; Jesus is our Lord!
During this final week of Advent, we may wonder how Christmas came upon us so quickly. Unlike Mary and Elizabeth’s preparation that allowed for the eager acceptance of God’s will, we may find ourselves not feeling ready for the imminent celebration of Jesus’s birth. There is much to think about – food, gifts, decorations, travel, and hospitality. And yet, this is the time for us to get excited, to reflect on that mystery of the Incarnation that will be made manifest at Christmas. During this final week of Advent, let us use our many preparations as fuel to remind us to prepare our hearts for Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem. Such a big feast deserves all “the trimmings,” which is precisely why so many beautiful traditions have arisen around Christmas. As the infant John knows, the presence of Jesus is exciting. As Elizabeth recognizes, this is her Lord within her cousin Mary. Let us be grateful for our own final preparations, using them as Advent prayer, wherein we offer any sacrifices entailed as our own gifts to the Christ child on his birthday. God willing, this preparation will allow us to receive Jesus’s birth with the same readiness, courage, and joy as did his Mother.