Luke tells us in today’s Gospel that Mary went as quickly as she could to Elizabeth’s. Did you notice that? Mary was a teenager when all this occurred. Like all young people, she was excited and wasted no time.
It’s a good reminder for us to foster spiritual childhood. To cultivate the enthusiasm and the generosity of youth.
When I was a teenager, I remember thinking that it must be easier for old people to be holy. I knew then (as I know now) lots of old people who were holy. So I thought holiness is like experience and wisdom. It comes with age.
But now that I’m older, and a little bit wiser, I know that’s not true. I know that young people can perform heroic feats of holiness. Great acts of generosity towards God and towards their neighbour. Young people are idealistic, and demanding of themselves, and so generous. Again and again at Adelaide’s Catholic Youth Festival a few weeks ago, I was moved by the generosity of the young people I was with, some new to the faith. They are willing to give everything to God. To give everything in service of their neighbour.
But what about us? As we get older, it’s easy to become complacent. We can become attached to small pleasures; unwilling to offer sacrifice. So here we have the example of our Blessed Mother — a teenager — who hastens to Elizabeth without delay. We can ask her to pray for us in these final days of Advent, that we can share her youthful spirit of service.
And then we have the example of Elizabeth and John. The unborn baby leaps for joy in his mother’s womb. I imagine every mother here can confirm the veracity of that tale.
Doctors confirm that babies recognise familiar voices, and respond to their environment well before they are born. Moreover, the bond between a mother and her child is profound. John would have literally shared his mother’s joy. The emotions which moved Elizabeth moved him too. And vice versa.
So Elizabeth and her child share each other’s joy. Please God, we’ll each have the opportunity on Christmas Day to share the joy of family and friends. And what a blessing, if like Mary and her child, we can be a source of joy. So we can ask that favour of our Blessed Mother too. That she prays for each of us, that we can be a source of joy to others.
Today’s prayers, today’s readings, these last days before Christmas all point us to the wonder of the Incarnation. The scandal of the Incarnation.
God became one of us. God assumed our human nature, so that he could redeem us in and through our humanity. And then he asks us to assist him. To become co-redeemers. To offer our own humanity — the daily humdrum of life; small sacrifices; moments of joy — for the salvation of the world.
Christmas invites us to contemplate the sacred humanity of Jesus Christ. In the history of the Church, some mystics have suggested that the Lord’s sacred humanity is like a diving board, which allows us to plunge into the mystery of God. Into the wonder of the Trinity: Father, Son and Spirit.
But St Teresa of Avila — one of history’s greatest mystics, a Doctor of the Church — rejects that idea. The sacred humanity of Jesus, she says, and the scandal of the Incarnation, and the mystery of Christmas — none of this is a “diving board” we leap from. It’s not something we leave behind. It is the ocean we swim in when we are immersed in God.
Mary carried God in her womb. She nursed God in her arms. And at this very Mass, we can hold God in our hands or receive him on our tongue. Because the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.