In to-day’s readings, excitement is building. In Micah 5:2, the first reading, a prophet of Social Justice foretells the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem of Judea. Micah, a contemporary of the eighth century BCE, Isaiah and Hosea, tells us that salvation will come from the little Ephrathah (Bethlehem) the birthplace of David. Ephrath was the name of the clan to which David’s father, Jesse, belonged.
The watchful waiting is almost over, and today’s gospel brings us back to the moment that set these events in motion: Mary’s “Yes” to God. It’s like a recap, reminding us of God’s decision to enter into our world as a human just like us. And yet, God puts the decision into the hands of a young woman who can freely choose to say yes or no to this unthinkable request.
The Gospel according to Luke tells us that Mary travelled across the hills of Judea to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was believed to be barren but was pregnant now – with child in her old age Having heard the news from the Angel Gabriel, Mary went with haste, aware of the needs of her cousin at this time. Pregnant herself and transparent with love, Mary selflessly journeyed over one hundred kilometres to assist Elizabeth, who was great with child. What joy and delight she brought, what a meeting of happiness, peace and exultation occurred in the small house of Zachary with this reunion. St. Luke conveys a great sense of the joy which comes with receiving good news.
The gift of God which is received interiorly wells up into praising and blessing, glorifying and magnifying, rejoicing and leaping in celebratory dance. The first effect of joy is the desire to share the experience with someone who can be trusted. Mary selflessly journeyed over the Judean hills to meet a loved cousin and to share the first meeting of their unborn children with joy and happiness. What followed was that the child in Elizabeth’s womb leapt with joy when she was granted the perception that Mary’s child was to be the Messiah – and she was filled with God’s Spirit. Mary was so transparent of God that she caused the little precursor to jump in Elizabeth’s womb.
Those who share out of their joy know from experience that it is in giving that we receive. Then we see things in a new way. The soul that is attuned to God’s presence is introduced to the beauty of the world all around them. Joy in the Lord opens our eyes to the thrilling beauty of God reflected in the movement of the unborn child, in sunrise and sunsets and in God’s Creation all around us.
Another area of joy is in believing. Mary’s blessedness is in believing. Believing is knowing intimacy with God whose Spirit is given to us. There is deep happiness in faith. Everything around us is gift and behind every gift is a giver. Love is at the heart of it all and, in the faith, nothing is ever “lost” or “wasted”. Faith, hope and love endure and, as Paul reminds us, the greatest of these is love.
True joy withstands the test of suffering. Joy in the Lord often grows with suffering because it is a purifying process. The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
The reason for our Advent joy is that the Lord is near, very near. Why not permit ourselves true joy in all that God has done for us and still continues to gift us daily? The whole purpose of humanity is to be happy. It can only be recognised against a background of suffering – suffering that enables us to recognise the happiness when suffering is accepted. Then we understand and have compassion.
Let your countenance announce this good news to the world this week. There will always be happiness and rejoicing in what you create (Is.65:18). Happiness is as simple as wearing a smile and sharing it with someone who is depressed or has had a bad day at work. Perhaps we can seek out one who is lonely and needs a smile to brighten their day. As one wit puts it, “The prettiest thing you can wear is a smile on your face so put a twinkle in your wrinkle!”
When did I last say “Yes” to God?
How can I help make someone happy this week?
Sr. Dympna Travers OP