Fr. Paul's Homily
Every family has Christmas Traditions and stories: perhaps it involves Christmas Eve Mass, or the opening of gifts, or a particular gift received. On the radio, Kevin Gregory, the meteorologist, shares that when he was a boy he found a new bike for himself by the Christmas tree. He was so excited that he rode the bike through the house, into his parent’s bedroom and ONTO the bed…while his parents were sleeping!! Do you have some Christmas stories!!???
The gospel today is a pre-Christmas story relating an encounter between Mary and Elizabeth, two women whose pregnancies were miraculous. Perhaps in later years, this story would have gone like this:
“Remember Aunt Lizzie? She was so excited I don’t even think she knew what she was saying!”
“Then Uncle Zach, poor guy — all he could do was stand around and listen to the women telling their stories. We always said it would take an act of God to shut him up … it’s just that nobody thought it would ever happen!”
“What about Joe? Poor guy! Where did he think Mary ran off to when she left in such a hurry?”
“Come on! Hadn’t all of this been predicted for a long time? They should have understood it from the get-go!”
“Sure, but who would have believed it would really happen? It’s one thing to talk about the great days to come. It’s another to believe that it’s actually coming true — especially in your own family.”
“You got it! Nobody would have even remembered it all if we didn’t know how the story turned out 30-some years down the line.”
So let’s talk about these two ladies…first, Elizabeth. She was up in years, beyond child bearing age, and her husband, Zechariah (or Uncle Zach in the story!), is of the priestly caste. Both Elizabeth and Zechariah were righteous in seeking to follow the Lord. In the Jewish mind, not having children was a great burden for a couple to bear and the woman bore most of that burden. One year, Zechariah is chosen to serve as the priest in the Temple in the Holy of Holies…this was a tremendous honor. While serving there Zechariah experiences a vision during which an angel tells him that his wife would bear a son and that he should name him John. Zechariah doubts the words, and consequently, he is struck mute, unable to speak until after the child is born. This child would become John the Baptist.
Mary is believed to have been a young girl, living in the tiny village of Nazareth. There is nothing special about this village, in fact there was a saying that went, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Mary is probably in her mid to early teens and is betrothed to a man by the name of Joseph. We know little of Joseph, although some have thought that he was older or even had children by a previous marriage. We know that she was a righteous young woman who sought to follow God in all ways.
What did these two women have in common? First, both Mary and Elizabeth were good women, who sought to follow the Lord God. The goodness and the holiness of their lives preceded the divine intervention which they experienced in the birth of their sons. In other words, they did not become holy once Gabriel appeared to them and God touched their lives; their holiness, graced by God, came from their faithful following of the Lord God, day in and down out.
Could we learn from these two women? I think we can! While all of us want God to step into our lives in a powerful way, the following of God daily should not be dependent upon this powerful action of God. Mary did not become holy once she got pregnant with Jesus, she already was holy, although the pregnancy surely deepened her relationship with God and made her more totally dependent upon him.
Holiness involves repeatedly doing good acts. It is not praying once; it is praying daily. It is not being kind to our co-workers once; it is being kind to our co-workers daily. I don’t know if we have ever thought it faith in this way, but faith must be practiced! As with most things in life, we get good at it by practicing over and over. For example, you are at work and something negative is said about a co-worker whom few like. Your first impulse is to participate in the gossip, but you choose to avoid the conversation, or you change the topic of the discussion. The next day, it happens again, and you respond in the same way of avoiding the conversation or changing the topic. If we continue with this process, slowly our first impulse will become good and righteous…we train ourselves to be followers of God’s Will. Practice begins to change both heart and actions.
Second, Mary and Elizabeth both witness to a faith that is totally dependent upon God. They KNOW that the blessing of their little boys is a true gift from God. Their response can only be one of humble gratitude. Even though the future is uncertain and there will be much suffering, especially for Mary, they are able to approach the future with hope and trust.
Have you ever been pushed to this type of total dependency on God? Perhaps it was when illness hit you, or a family member? Perhaps it was a challenging situation you were being asked to carry, and you didn’t know if you could do it!! When we are able to surrender our need to control and to put our lives into the hands of God, then we can approach each day with gratitude and hope. When we know that God is working in our lives, then we can live in anticipation of what God might have in store for us!! Mary and Elizabeth lived in this kind of trusting and humble gratitude before God. Can we do the same?
Finally, Mary and Elizabeth discovered a friendship in each other brought support and greater trust into their lives. It was the Angel Gabriel who alerted Mary about Elizabeth’s pregnancy (they lived 100 miles apart from each other), and Mary goes immediately to Gabriel, following her own vision and the beginning of our pregnancy. Scripture does not tell us why she went…was it to help Elizabeth or was it to find someone who would understand and accept her story? You see, people were shocked to hear of Elizabeth’s pregnancy since she was so elderly, but people would have stood in disbelief and disdain that Mary was a virgin mother.
Can we see how they needed each other, and how Mary in particular needed Elizabeth? And when Mary arrives at the home of Elizabeth and Zechariah, she is greeted with immediate belief and acceptance. What strength this must have been to Mary!
How much this world needs good, Christian friendship!! We need people of faith who can offer acceptance and, at times, challenge us to listen to the Lord and follow him. Do you have someone who can ask you, “How are you?” and you will not disregard the question or just give a superficial answer? Is there someone with whom you can talk about your relationship with God? I have been blessed with such relationships over the years, and it has been one of the greatest gifts God has given to me.
My friends we stand just five days before Christmas. I hope it will not be too frantic as you do your final preparations. May your travels be safe for you and your loved ones; may you find a few quiet moments to reflect upon this sacred season and its meaning in your lives; and may you not expect perfection in your Christmas gatherings, knowing that a few things always go wrong!! But know that God will be with you…and look for God with the expectation that a child looks for Santa!! Blessings!