(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)
This Sunday is the fourth and last Sunday of Advent. Soon we will celebrate our God who enters our world as one of us, sharing with us both our joys and our sorrows. On the second and third Sundays of Advent, we listened to John the Baptist preparing the people for the coming of Jesus. In both of these accounts he is an adult, and although Jesus does not appear in either of those readings, he is an adult as well. On this fourth Sunday of Advent, though, we return to a time before either man is born. Their lives have begun, but they are waiting inside of their mothers.
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
We know this story well. Mary is pregnant with Jesus. She has had an encounter with God—through the angel Gabriel—and she knows that her child is the One for whom her people have been waiting for so many centuries. How can Mary know this for sure? How can she believe it is true? Carrying all this inside of her, she hurries to visit her cousin Elizabeth who lives several days' journey away.
Elizabeth and her husband, Zechariah have never been able to have children. Now they, too, have had an encounter with God. Even though Elizabeth has grown past the age when it is possible for women to have children, she is pregnant.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.
We do not hear Mary's greeting, but look what happens!
Mary speaks and Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. She knows who is near. She marvels at the gift of the Lord's presence. She knows herself small and yet loved and gifted by God. She exclaims with Wonder and Awe those words that we repeat every time we pray to Mary, asking her for her prayers. The sound of Mary's greeting gives us the gift of these words of prayer.
Mary speaks and Elizabeth's child leaps for joy. He knows who is near. How is it possible for a tiny baby to know this? It can only be the Knowledge that comes as a gift of the Holy Spirit. The sound of Mary's greeting affects this child's whole life. This knowledge of the presence of the Lord grows within him. He becomes John the Baptist, the one who proclaims with his whole life that the Lord is near.
The Spirit of God is on the move and at work, all at the sound of Mary's greeting.
Why does Mary's voice have such power? Elizabeth knows. She says,
And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
Mary believes the message of the angel Gabriel. She trusts in her encounter—in her relationship—with God. The plan of God that seems so ridiculously impossible, requires Mary to believe. What if Mary did not believe?
What if she had said, "It is impossible for me to have a child—I am not yet married to Joseph"?
What if she had said, "How can any of this be true?"
What if Mary had said, "No"?
No, thank-you. This is crazy. Impossible.
Where would we be then?
Instead of the sound of Mary's greeting that opens in John the Baptist a life of mission, there would be a vacuum.
Instead of the sound of John the Baptist proclaiming that the Lord is near, there would be empty silence.
Instead of the sound of the Good Shepherd calling his own sheep by name...
Mary is blessed because she says "Yes."
Mary is blessed because she believes that nothing will be impossible with God.
Mary is blessed because her voice makes room for the Holy Spirit to work.
It is the beginning of a great partnership with God. It is not the only time the Holy Spirit works through the sound of Mary's voice. We know that on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit fills the apostles and Mary and they all begin to speak in other languages about God's deeds of power.
And at this sound the crowd gathered
Three thousand people that day are baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit, too. The church is born, the Kingdom of God indeed comes near, each one of us gets to be sheep of the Good Shepherd—all at the sound of these voices.
The sound of Mary's yes continues to echo throughout the centuries, along with all those other voices who join in the work of the Kingdom, together with God. Our yes-es ring out, too, in praise of our God. Come Lord Jesus!