Mary and Elizabeth
Picture two peasant women singing and dancing and hugging each other for sheer joy. Picture two pregnant peasant women singing and dancing and hugging each other for sheer joy. One is Mary, destined to be the Mother of God, and the other, her cousin Elizabeth, destined to be the mother of John the Baptist. Read about it in St Luke's Gospel chapter 1. In fact I can't help observing that, in Luke's Gospel, everyone seems to be singing. Zechariah sings his Benedictus when his tongue is loosened. Angels sing Glorias to shepherds. Old Simeon sings his Nunc Dimittis. So who or what is inspiring all this singing? The answer is the Spirit. The Holy Spirit, that secret agent of the Almighty, hovers over this new creation, these new children within the wombs of two cousins, just as the Spirit hovered over the world at creation. 'The Spirit breathed on the water and life came forth,' intoned Genesis. And, note, in both instances there was chaos beforehand.
In the primeval story there was chaos and a void until the Spirit breathed and brought forth order. In the gospel story, there was the chaos of the two empty wombs: Mary, the virgin and Elizabeth, the sterile. There was chaos politically because these two women, like the rest of their countrymen, lived in a territory occupied by the Roman forces. There was the chaos of poverty and brutality they were forced to endure. There was chaos in that they, as women, were a minority within a minority people.
And yet these two women sang and danced for they saw something in the forthcoming births of their children. In her Magnificat Mary sang of it. The lowly would be lifted up, she chanted. The mighty would be deposed, she intoned. The hungry would be fed, she echoed. Yes, here and now, in the midst of their personal chaos, it was a time of hope. God is at work even in troubled times, is their message. That's why they sang and that is why we must also sing. We must pick up the strains of Mary's song and Mary's hope because, even in our chaotic times, the Spirit is at work.
In 1863, brother was raging against brother in the horrendous American Civil War. On Christmas Day in 1863, Henry Longfellow, the great poet, received word that his son had been seriously wounded. He wrote a poem that started out bitter but wound up sweet.
We need to sing songs of promise, songs of hope in the chaos of Iraq, in the chaos of Israel/Palestine, in the chaos of our mean streets. Above all, we need to sing them to our children. Our children, who are so full of terror at the heritage we're leaving them. Our children, so full of the media's nihilism which tells them incessantly that there is, deep down, nothing that counts here and nothing that exists hereafter and then proceeds to fill the void with compulsive consumerism. To our children we must sing songs of hope, songs that reveal to them a Spirit who will bring order out of chaos.
The comedian Sam Levenson tells the story about the birth of his first child. The first night home the baby would not stop crying. His wife frantically flipped through the pages of Dr Spock to find out why babies cry and what to do about it. Since Spock's book is rather long, the baby cried a long time. Grandma was in the house but, since she had not read books on child-rearing, she was not consulted. The baby continued to cry until Grandma could stand it no longer and she shouted downstairs, 'For heaven's sake, Sarah, put down the book and pick up the baby'.
Good advice. Put down the frantic busyness and pick up the baby. Put down the overweening career and pick up the baby. Put down all the glitzy material things and pick up the baby. In a survey done of 15,000 children, the question was asked, "What do you think makes a happy family?" The most frequently given answer was 'doing things together'. When you do things together, it seems that then they can best hear the song of hope. Pick up the children. The question I want to ask each one of you is this:- "What do you need to put down so that you can pick up the Christchild and hold him close?"
May God bless you through these weeks of Advent preparation, and may joy, peace and delight fill your hearts and homes at Christmas.
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