On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, I am struck by the language of “blessing” that pervades our gospel text today. I’m also touched by how the evangelist helps us to “keep it real.”
Luke’s writing reminds us that Elizabeth, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” can hardly contain herself. It appears that this reality allows Elizabeth to recognize the abundance of God’s grace come to visit her in her life, in ways she perhaps might not have been able to recognize without an openness to the Holy Spirit. Addressing her kinswoman, Mary, she proclaims her witness to three distinct outpourings of God’s grace: "Blessed are you among women…,” “blessed is the fruit of your womb…” and “blessed are you who believed…” This language of blessing draws a profound response from Mary, who - also filled with the Holy Spirit - proclaims the greatness and faithfulness of God in the prayer we know as “The Magnificat.”
One of the aspects I love about this gospel passage is that the evangelist grounds God’s blessing, the outpouring of God’s grace, in the ordinary lived reality of a very human experience. Luke is helping us to “keep it real.”
Mary comes to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth in the hill-country of Judea. One can only wonder why her parents would send her so far from her own home (Nazareth in the North of the country and Judea in the South) in the knowledge that she was pregnant herself. Of course, as a young woman who was betrothed but not yet living with her husband-to-be, she may have traveled so long and dangerous a journey to get far away from the village wags who might have had little else to do other than gossip about her pregnancy.
I keep in mind too that Elizabeth herself is not supposed to be pregnant. Earlier in the gospel, during the Annunciation, the angel shared astounding news with Mary: “And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren...” On the face of it, it would appear that neither of the women were supposed to be pregnant, but as the evangelist reminds us, “nothing is impossible for God…”
And into this incredibly wonderful, touching, and all-too-human reality, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit allows the recognition of the almost ridiculous generosity of God’s abundant blessing in our lives. Such is the nature of grace. It isn’t quantifiable. God’s grace is not measured out with the stingy cup of a Pharisee. It is overabundant, and freely heaped upon us. Our willingness to open ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit, allows us to recognize the life-transforming work of God unfolding in our own lives. Our lives become abundant in themselves. We come to recognize the never-ending blessings of God being made manifest in us, through us and for us. The alternative is that we close our hearts and our minds to the power of the Holy Spirit, and instead live lives of stinginess, meagerness, and shortage. Such a person is turned in on themselves and can only recognize absence and scarcity, justifying their selfishness as virtue. And so it bears repeating: God’s grace is not measured out with the stingy cup of a Pharisee. It is overabundant, and freely heaped upon us.
As we enter upon the great feast of the Incarnation, celebrating once more the birth of God-made-Flesh, the ultimate expression of grace and blessing for humanity, I invite you to join with me in reflecting on your life and on the lives of those dearest to you, whether living or not. As you bring loved ones to mind, open your heart to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, and come to see the blessing and the grace of our oh-so-Generous God! Give God praise and thanks. Let our hearts be filled with gratitude for the abundance with which we are blessed, and let that gratitude find its expression in how we greet family-member, friend and stranger this Christmas season.
God’s blessings upon you and all who are dear to you in this Holy Season. And remember… Keep it real!