4th Sunday of Advent Gospel Lectio Divina - December 19, 2021
Mary set out
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
“Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”
Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste … and greeted Elizabeth
Who knows what moved Mary to go visit Elizabeth, but thank God she went. Sometimes the simplest act of faith can lead to a magnificent act of God. We can picture Mary being filled with the Holy Spirit and getting up early in the morning to travel to Elizabeth. She goes to visit her pregnant relative while she was pregnant as well. The selflessness of her act shows how God can work with even the smallest bit of willingness. All we need to do is say “Yes, Lord.” She was probably tired and in need herself, yet she went to Elizabeth because of Elizabeth’s need, not her own. She went to be with Elizabeth, to share in her passion, and together they shared in the joy of the new lives within them.
the infant leaped in her womb
What a great mystery this is. John leapt in his mother’s womb. This is one of the reasons why the Visitation is one of the Mysteries of the Rosary. Infants move in the womb often, as any woman who has been pregnant knows from experience. But when there is movement, the child is communicating with the mother and the outside world. It is a chance to start to get to know the child before he or she officially enters this world. When John moved in the womb–and he didn’t just move a little, he leapt–this most likely sent a clear message to Elizabeth that something significant was happening, her child in her womb was aware of it, and it brought him great joy. It was as if John wanted to leap out of Elizabeth’s womb to meet Jesus, his savior–who, by the way, wasn’t even yet in the world himself. So John sensed Jesus’ presence while both were still in the womb. Thus, the mystery of this event is not so much in the fact that John moved in Elizabeth’s womb (afterall, many infants move around in their mother’s womb). The mystery is in the reason he leaped. John’s ability to sense Jesus’ presence was nothing short of supernatural.
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
These words were aptly taken to form part of the first half of the Hail Mary, forming a divine dialogue between heaven and earth. The Hail Mary begins with a greeting from the archangel Gabriel, who says, “Hail, Full of Grace.” Elizabeth follows up with more heavenly affirmation of Mary’s holiness. People who misunderstand Church teaching often wonder where the Immaculate Conception is in Scripture. Well, here it is right in the Hail Mary, which is taken directly from Scripture. While this Sunday’s reading is not about the Annunciation, the same theme is entertained. The greeting from Gabriel ought to make us ponder, just as it made Mary ponder. What does it mean to be full of grace? Elizabeth helps with the answer to that question. Mary is blessed among women, and one can imply that she is blessed because of the fruit of her womb. However, this kind of begs the question: Was she blessed before she conceived? For the answer we can go back to Gabriel who is offering a resounding “Yes!” She is full of grace and blessed before she conceived by the Holy Spirit. In Mary’s case, God’s salvific grace transcends time. The greeting from Gabriel and the greeting from Elizabeth are complimentary in that they both confirm Mary’s Immaculate Conception.
It’s interesting that the first part of the Hail Mary is all Scriptural and the second part is not. The second part comes from the Tradition of the Church, which declared Mary to be the Mother of God centuries after she lived at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. But this is still very appropriate. The first part of the Hail Mary is God’s word given to us. He is telling us the story and telling us how to address Mary so that we put her role in proper context. Also, as I can attest to from experience–and I’m probably not alone in this–Scripture is where God speaks to us personally. Thus, the first part of the Hail Mary is the personal prayer God gives to each of us so it can dwell in our hearts. Then, in the second part, as a Church we respond to the great mystery of Mary’s grace, her blessedness, and the fruit of her womb. Because she is so full of grace and blessed, we as a Church confide in her intercessory power, saying “Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” If anyone has the power to appeal to God’s mercy, it’s going to be her.
Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled
I’ve often been curious about why the Liturgical Calendar jumps back and forth chronologically in the Gospel narrative. Last week we read about John the Baptist as an adult preaching about the coming of Christ. This Sunday John is an infant in the womb. But this is good. It is good to disregard time in the story of salvation, because God is outside of time and it behooves us to see things as God does. This must have been the way Mary saw things. She had such great faith in God that it was as if she already knew that the salvation of the world was at hand before any human told her. This Advent, let’s not just rejoice in the coming of our savior. Let’s also rejoice in having such a wise and holy mother in Mary.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for the hope you give us this season and all through the year. It’s the hope of eternal life that sustains us. We are your children, and thank you for our inheritance, heaven itself. We pray that you continue to sustain us through this winter season and through the winters we may experience in our own hearts and souls. Please come shine in our lives when it gets dark and let us know you are always with us, Emmanuel. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
The presence of God sustains us when our senses fail us. His presence on earth was sensed by John even when no one else could see him in Mary’s womb. Jesus is often present to us in similar ways, even when we cannot sense him. God has placed a desire for him deep in our hearts, and he desires to be with us. Be silent now and get in touch with that inner longing. In doing so, you will meet the same God that John experienced while in Elizabeth’s womb, and receive the same joy he had.
Kilby is a freelance writer from New Jersey and managing editor of Catholic World Report.