On the days before the feast of Christmas, and on this final Sunday, the gospel read at Mass is taken from the first chapter of Matthew’s gospel or the first chapter of Luke’s. These two gospel-writers give us accounts of the birth of Jesus, and in Luke’s case the birth of John the Baptist too. Luke describes Mary as the ‘kinswoman’ of Elizabeth (Luke 1:36), and stresses how deeply related the mission of John the Baptist is to the mission of Christ.
Today’s gospel passage is unique because it presents a meeting between the mothers of the two men, each carrying in their wombs the children soon to be born. The story, known as the ‘Visitation’, follows the account of the Annunciation to Mary of the coming birth of the Saviour, which ended with Mary’s ‘Yes’ to God and her words, ‘let what you have said be done to me’. (Luke 1:38)
Commentators on this gospel story have often stressed the kindness of Mary in going to the assistance of Elizabeth in her time of need. The story also has a deeper significance, for it is the first meeting between the Messiah and the one who will prepare the way for him. The first words of Elizabeth to Mary are familiar as part of the ‘Hail, Mary’: ‘Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb!’ Luke tells us that the child in the womb of Elizabeth recognised the coming of the Lord, the Messiah. What John will do during his adult life, preparing the people for the coming of the Messiah, is anticipated here in the tender meeting of two pregnant mothers. As Mary welcomed the coming of the Lord into her body, now John, as yet unborn, welcomes his arrival too.
If we continue to read the gospel beyond today’s passage we hear the words of Mary’s hymn of thanksgiving, the Magnificat, prayed daily by the Church at Evening Prayer.
What can we learn from the behaviour and attitude of Mary and Elizabeth?
How will the coming of Christ change me?
Pray for all mothers that they may welcome the children of their womb.
Pray for a deep spirit of thanksgiving for God’s goodness.