Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility. --Saint Augustine
Gospel text (Lk 1,46-56): Mary said:
"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
for he has looked upon his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever."
Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months
and then returned to her home.
In the days leading up to Christmas the Church gives us these passages from the sections of the Gospel surrounding the birth of Jesus. That is partly to prepare us for the feast we are about to celebrate, but partly also to instruct us, not so much about what happened, but about what it means. Today’s Gospel reading is a perfect example.
Luke casts Mary not just as the mother of Jesus, but as the first disciple and, indeed, the model for the discipleship of us all. At the annunciation she heard God’s word and accepted it, just as we do when we become a disciple. But there’s more to it than that. Mary acted on that word. It was not good news for her alone – she went to her cousin Elizabeth, not simply to help, but to spread the good news. For you and me that good news might have been “The most marvelous thing has happened! I am going to be the mother of the Messiah!” But Mary didn’t say that. As her Magnificat makes clear, this was not just about her. Instead, she interpreted to Elizabeth what the angel’s message meant. Her praise of God in the Magnificat makes clear what has happened. God has shown strength, exalting the lowly, filling the hungry. Note the interesting parallels with what her Son will say in Luke’s version of the beatitudes and woes (6:20–26) – the poor and the rich; the sad and the happy, the hungry and the sated, the derided and the praised. They’re all there in Mary’s song of praise, just as they would be some 30-odd years later in her Son’s first major speech.
As we meditate on these stories, it’s important to understand the underlying meaning. The whole Christmas story is, itself, a Gospel in miniature. Some hear God’s word and respond, others turn away and resist.
The challenge for me, this year, as always, and I hope for you as well, is figuring out how to interpret for others what we believe happens at Christmas, just as Mary interpreted for Elizabeth.
Christmas is not just for us . . .