In the Wombs of the Women

In the Wombs of the Women

Fourth Sunday of Advent. Fr John Farrell preaches on the visitation of our Blessed Lady to her cousin, Elizabeth.

The lectionary readings today are full of greetings, announcements, introductions and declarations. New things are beginning.

New characters are presented. A great drama – the divine-human drama of salvation – is to come to its fullness. The stage is set, and we ourselves are not the audience but co-characters to be caught up in the scope and sweep of the majestic creativity of the Father, Spirit and the crucified Christ.

There is a quickening within divine providence. A new light is dawning on the landscapes of grace.

From one hill-top village to another a young woman moves ‘with great haste’. How beautiful on the mountain are the feet of her who bears Good News!

For he himself will be Peace.

Shepherds and sheep await angelic visitations. In the East, camels and kings set out on a star-lit trek. The ox and the ass know their manger; they will soon know their master. Two pregnant women meet.

Two pregnant women meet. It is a scene that could be seen any day in any Tescos supermarket or any school playground. The kindness of women. Here is the goodness of the ordinary and the mundane and the marvels of life and life-bearing.

In this ‘mystery’ of our Lady’s visitation of Elizabeth, the ordinary and the extraordinary are caught up in each other. Not just in the transfiguration of the ordinary into the extraordinary. But in the transfiguration of the extraordinary into the ordinary. The divine Word is abbreviated into the wonder of maternity. And Elijah is dancing in the chariot of his mother’s womb. Grace abounding.

Here blessings are not just descending from on high, but they are magnified in sharing and they are glorified in praise and thanksgiving ascending. That God can bless us is one thing: that he can empower us to bless one another is the same thing, the same gift. Elizabeth and Mary sing their duet of blessings shared and blessings abounding.

Elizabeth adds her line of prayer to the Ave Maria begun by the angel Gabriel in wonder at ‘the most blessed among all women’. And Mary in her Magnificat sings the praises of her Spirit-conceived Son in his obedient mission from the Father – ‘from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace’.

There is nothing outwardly remarkable to be seen by a passer-by or a curious neighbour. In Jerusalem what is to be rendered to Caesar is rendered to Caesar, the builders are laying stone upon stone in the renovated Temple: the priests are daily offering sacrifices at the altar; and Herod’s soldiers are sharpening their swords. The ordinary carries on in the usual routine of daily life.

But grace abounds. And the world is changing, in the wombs of the women.

Readings: Mic 5:1-4 | Heb 10:5-10 | Luke 1:39-44

fr. John Farrell, former Prior Provincial and Master of Students, and is now based at Holy Cross, Leicester, from where he exercises a wide-ranging preaching ministry.