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4th Sunday of Advent (C)

I have a friend who likes to say “There are no coincidences.” She believes that the events people commonly ascribe to chance are part of God’s plan. Things like randomly finding a picture of a childhood friend with whom one has lost touch and then running into her the very next day, or meeting the love of your life at a party you almost didn’t attend. I’m sure we all have similar stories.

I want to agree with her, I know many people do, but there is something fatalistic about the “no coincidences” theory that bothers me. For one, it brings into question the idea of God’s gift of free will. We are not puppets; we guide our own movement. On the other hand, the “no coincidences” theory brings forth the idea that if we are attuned to it, we can recognize and accept God’s active involvement in our lives as well as in the lives of others.

On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, the gospel of Luke draws us into an intimate exchange between Elizabeth and Mary. Both women are pregnant, although it is clear neither expected to be. And it is safe to presume that even in their wildest dreams, neither woman anticipated being with child at this stage in life. But Elizabeth is a married woman; Mary is not.

What would life have been like for a young, unmarried, pregnant, Jewish peasant girl living in a patriarchal society in first century, Roman-occupied Palestine?

The correct answer is: dangerous.

Traditionally, Mary is portrayed as a demure, quiet, pious and obedient young woman, and like most women of her era, powerless and dependent on men. But don’t be misled, Mary was no shrinking violet. Her great faith, piety and self-awareness as beloved to God attuned her to God’s movement in her life.  Mary’s fiat to what she clearly knew would be difficult to explain was an expression of her profound trust that God keeps God’s promises. She said Yes to being the Christ-bearer. And, therein lies the source of Mary’s strength: as a young woman with little or no worldly rights, her Yes had the power to transform the world.

We envision young Mary, traveling in haste to Elizabeth’s house immediately after the angel left her. It is doubtful she traveled alone and without supervision. She took a great risk going public, yet the urgency of her actions express a fearlessness and confidence that her life and the life within her is now part of something much greater than any scandal surrounding her circumstances could be.

As the two women greet one another, Elizabeth, along with the infant leaping in her womb, immediately recognizes the extent of Mary’s blessedness. She applauds Mary’s acceptance of her future role for all of humankind with her words Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” [Lk 1:45] I am touched by Elizabeth’s spirit-filled and passionate response to Mary, although perhaps I shouldn’t be. Elizabeth saw clearly because, as we know, she also recognized God’s movement in her life.

Can we make ourselves to be more like Mary, whose self-awareness as beloved to God, and whose recognition of God’s movement in her life guided her decision to participate in the event that forever changed human history?

Can we, in the same way that Elizabeth did, encourage those who come to us filled with grace and enthusiasm for doing God’s will and join ourselves to the work being borne by the holy ones among us?

If we are attuned to it, we may recognize ourselves as Christ-bearers, too.

The readings for today can be found here.

Art: The Annunciation, Megan Marlatt 1987, St. Michael’s Chapel, Rutgers University