Dei Verbum compares the gift of Scripture to the gift of the Incarnation: “for the words of God, expressed in human language, have been made like human discourse, just as the word of the eternal Father, when He took to Himself the flesh of human weakness, was in every way made like men” (13). The Holy Spirit has bundled the immensity and perfection of God into our limited and imperfect human language. Like Christ contained himself in human form, so too has the Father contained himself in our human tongue.This Advent, let us return to the infancy narratives with fresh eyes. Recognizing that, like St. Ignatius advised his Jesuits to do while on mission, we can use the Word to ignite our senses, engage our collective memory as the people of God, and to understand our Lord as both father and friend.
The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56) is one moment from the infancy narratives that can prepare us in a special way for the coming of our Lord this Christmas. It provides us with a snapshot of Mary as a loving servant who is familiar with the Scriptures, bubbling over with joy, and confident in the promises of her God. Her example is one we can imitate even today. Spend some time with the narrative here and then consider Mary’s threefold approach to Advent:
- With reverent joy: Mary’s spirit dances in anticipation of the Lord. She travels “in haste” to Elizabeth and upon arriving, bursts into a joyful song of praise (Luke 1:39). Her ‘bubbling over’ mimics the joy of Heaven. There’s no room for anything but praise and thanksgiving. It overwhelms, overflows, “overshadows” (Luke 1:35) — a word we also hear in association with Mary when the Holy Spirit blesses her with child. We often picture Mary as meek and mild, but remember how young she was, how strong her faith was, and how miraculous this moment was. I can’t imagine her just quietly shuffling around Galilee in those early days. She must have been laughing at the goodness of her God, her heart in constant song.
- Turn to the Scriptures: Notice that when Mary sees her cousin Elizabeth, she is immediately reminded of a Bible story. Her prayer, what we now call the “Magnificat,” imitates the structure and content of Hannah’s prayer of thanksgiving in the Old Testament (1 Samuel 2:1-10). Mary very likely could not read, and yet, the miraculous story of Hannah’s conception of Samuel is the first thing that comes to mind upon seeing her gray-haired cousin Elizabeth big with child. Mary lives and breathes the Scriptures. They inform and shape the way she sees the world. Her partial recitation of Hannah’s song yokes the miracle of the past with the miracles of the present. I like to think — this of course isn’t doctrine — that Mary intended to recite Hannah’s song perfectly, but is so overcome by her own happiness that she jumbles the words and starts ad-libbing from her heart. The words tumble out of her mouth like wine, splashing life and merriment into the desert sands around her. This Advent, challenge yourself to journey toward Bethlehem with some sort of scriptural program as your guide. You could pray parts of the Divine Office, pray with the Sunday mass readings using Lectio Divina, or explore some of our resources here at the Catholic Apostolate Center.
- Serve our family members: One of the first things Mary does when she finds out she is pregnant is hasten to her cousin Elizabeth to help her! Even though Mary is in the early stages of pregnancy herself — and probably feeling sick and tired — she puts all of that aside. How can we serve our family members this season? While it’s always good to serve those we don’t know, our families require a special kind of patience and love from us, especially during the holidays. Ponder the ways you can serve those in your family who are forgotten or who have hurt you in the past. Reconciliation goes a long way to helping us see the face of Christ in others.