The season of Advent is really short, lasting only four weeks. The only liturgical season shorter is Christmas, which lasts twelve days. Today and this week we bring the season of Advent to a close, as this is the Fourth Sunday of Advent.
Advent teaches us something very important about God and our relationship with Him. Unlike every other religion, Jews and Christians teach that God comes to us. God created us. Others believe the same.
God loves us. Not all religions teach that God loves us.
More important is the fact that God comes to us. No other religion teaches that God comes to us. Advent. “Advenio”, “Advenir” in Latin. He comes. Our God comes to us. That is the most important lesson of the season of Advent.
God comes to us at the end of time, and in our time. This teaching is found in the Old Testament, with many prophecies that we hear in the readings in Advent. Several of the Old Testament prophets teach this. Some of the prophets even teach that he will be the Messiah and will be born to a woman, a virgin. Today’s first reading comes from the prophet Micah, written about 700 years before the birth of Jesus. Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah, who also wrote of the birth of the Messiah to a woman, a virgin.
In today’s Gospel the expectation of the birth of the Messiah is brought very near to us. In the Annunciation by the Archangel Gabriel to Mary in Nazareth, Mary is told she will conceive and bear a child and he will be Emmanuel, “God with us”. Mary questioned the Angel how this would happen.
And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.
She is told to name him Jesus, and he will be the Son of the Most High.
Gabriel tells 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; for nothing will be impossible for God.”
In today’s Gospel the expectations of Advent draw very near. The “coming” is close. Mary goes in haste to her cousin Elizabeth. Here we have two pregnant women who have been filled with the Holy Spirit. So, there are five distinct persons present in today’s Gospel, Mary, Elizabeth, John and Jesus, plus the Holy Spirit who has filled them both. This is a Divine moment. This is a moment of Advent. The Visitation anticipates God’s coming among us, but prepares us for something more, much more.
In this moment, two women pregnant with boys meet. God comes to both of them in a very intimate, personal way. Both women have accepted this moment of conversion and will play an important role in Salvation History. One carries an infant boy, John, who will become the prophet announcing the Messiah’s coming. The other is the Messiah, Jesus, human and Divine, the Son of God, the son of Mary.
This is a moment to treasure and savor. It is not Christmas, but something new. Something incredible is now very close, but not yet. We can feel the proximity and the presence in a specific moment in time. It is historic because it never happened before; it happened in our History, in Time, not outside of time. This moment, 2,000 years ago, had to happen in order for other events to be fulfilled later, including our time here, now, today. “Eternity” came into our time in a new and wonderful way. And the world could never be the same afterward. HE CAME. The world as it was before was changed, converted by the presence of God who comes to us.
Time was divided into a “Before” and an “After”, BC and AD, Before Christ and Anno Domini, the year of our Lord. Time was changed forever. Nothing can ever be the same.
Let’s take a more personal look at this moment. I hope most of you have experienced a “conversion” moment in your lives. You probably have experienced many of them, not just one. At each conversion moment we are also filled with the Holy Spirit.
In this conversion you experience an epiphany, a realization of something both true and new. As you accept this new experience, a conversion experience, you realize it changes everything. You must begin to accommodate into your life this new reality. Once you accept it, you simply cannot go back. Going back to “before” is not possible if you accept this conversion and enter into it. This moment requires you to be completely free. God will never violate your Free Will. This moment presents you with a decision. The moment doesn’t just happen to you. You need to accept it, freely, willingly and choose it: Make it yours.
Mary was not raped by the Archangel Gabriel or God, but she was presented with a choice. She had to freely accept this Conception of the Son of God, and she did, saying,
“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
This was a conversion moment for Mary, and she chose it freely, and things could never be the same.
Conversion is like that.
Elizabeth was not raped. Elizabeth was married, but now old and barren, but, inexplicably, now six months pregnant. Elizabeth was now experiencing an epiphany as she was filled with the Holy Spirit. She had obviously accepted her pregnancy and trusted her husband and God.
Elizabeth’s moment of epiphany in this conversion was the realization that her younger cousin Mary was also pregnant with a special person. Mary bore Elizabeth’s “Lord”.