Fourth Sunday of Advent (December 23, 2018)
The angel Gabriel's greeting to Mary contained 2 discrete, yet related, messages: (1) Mary would be the mother of the long-expected Messiah, & (2) her cousin Elizabeth had conceived a child.
No sooner has Mary said “yes” to the invitation to be the mother of the Messiah than she is off “in haste” to visit her cousin.
In a very real sense, long before she actually delivered the child who would redeem the world from the hopelessness and despair of sin, Mary was already giving birth to the Messiah through her own willingness and eagerness to serve the needs of another: in this case, a relative who, because of her age, might have been considered a woman with a “high risk” pregnancy.
On the face of it, there is nothing noteworthy about Mary's action. After all, wouldn't any decent human being do the same for a relative in need? What makes Mary's service remarkable is the urgency with which she did it. She truly is a model of virtue, one who clearly demonstrates in her own life that the best way of saying “thank you” for God's goodness to her is to be a source of that goodness to others.
St. Francis de Sales observed: “Mary does not consider that she is wasting time when she goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. No, it is an act of loving courtesy." (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 159) In her "haste" to serve Elizabeth, Mary shows us the path of true devotion. Francis de Sales continues: "God rewards us according to the dignity of the office we exercise. I do not say that we may not aspire to the outstanding virtues, but I do say that we must train ourselves in the little virtues first without which the great ones are often false and deceptive.”
Advent reminds us that the great hope for which we all long is built upon the foundation of little, simple, ordinary things: kindness, graciousness, welcome, patience, honesty, hospitality, and compassion. Mary shows us that even the most singular demonstrations of God's love for us, first and foremost, challenge us to recognize the opportunities already present in our ordinary lives to devote our energies in promoting the welfare of one another.
Like Mary, may we come to see that our willingness to do little things for one another with great love and enthusiasm - to display "loving courtesy" - is the first step in our ultimate vocation: to give birth to the Great Promise of God's love for all people - Jesus Christ.