A meditation for the People of New Creation Church (Anglican), given at Midday Prayer, December 22, 2021 by Fr. Justin Clemente.
Fundamental to Luke’s telling of the Gospel of Christ is his conviction that the good news is for everyone. For as Paul, the one that Luke travelled with said, “In Christ Jesus…There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female” (Gal. 3:28). This conviction is reflected in the beginning of Luke’s Gospel in many ways: shepherds (people on the lowest societal rung) hear glad tidings from heavenly hosts, wise men from afar follow the star to Jesus, old and young meet the Promise of the Ages in Jesus, the Messiah. And, in the midst of the Infancy narrative, two women, one old and one young, are highlighted for the absolutely unique and unrepeatable role they played in the giving of the gospel. In a culture that did not consider women a trustworthy witness, these two are faithful witnesses to Christ’s conception and birth. It is incredibly significant that Luke includes this passage in his gospel.
But not only are these two women highlighted for the unrepeatable role they played, they are also highlighted because the example that they show forth is to be repeated – again and again and again – in lives of those who read the Gospel of Luke and share the faith of the Evangelist. In our passage of scripture today, the bent of Luke is more than to merely record a historical event – the meeting of Elizabeth and Mary – no, it is to give us a pattern. A way to live. A way to have joy in our waiting as believers. At the outset we need to recall Luke’s purpose in writing his gospel. He tells Theophilius that he writes to him that he “might have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:4) That word there – certainty – conveys the idea of a deep, inward knowledge. Luke writes these things that Theophilius, and we, might be changed by the events, the people, the examples we find in his gospel. He sets forth Elizabeth, and in an even greater way, Mary that we might know how to respond to God at work in our lives. That we might know the basis for joy in the life of the believer. That we might have an example of how to live in the “already-and-not-yet” of faith.
What a perfect way to bring Advent to a close. As (hopefully) our expectancy rises as we await the jubilant celebration that will be had over the birth of Christ, we need to be reminded that even Advent there is not only repentance and preparation, but joy! Joy in knowing that we are called, both individually and communally, to live as people who are a foretaste of the future. As crazy as it sounds, we come from the future and our home is there. The future of God’s reign rushes forward to the world as it now stands and God asks us to live as people who, in the midst of uncertainty, cling to and believe that what God has begun will come to fruition. What we have today is two women who will teach how to be the people of the already and not yet, and how to do it with joy.
This section of Scripture is perhaps one of the best examples of what a true Advent spirituality is: aligning your life/actions/thoughts/schedule/resources/time to your belief that the end of human history is the reign of God in Christ over all things. The question you have to ask yourself during Advent is, do you believe it? If we don’t, then what on earth are we doing here? In reality, that’s actually what “church” is. Says Henri Nouwen: “The visit of Elizabeth and Mary is one of the Bible’s most beautiful expressions of what it means to form community, to be together, gathered around a promise, affirming that something is really happening. This is what prayer is all about. It is coming together around the promise. This is what celebration is all about. It is lifting up what is already there. This is what Eucharist is about. It is saying ‘thank you’ for the seed that has been planted. It is saying, ‘We are waiting for the Lord, who has already come.'” This sort of hopeful, expectant waiting is the legacy of Mary and Elizabeth, and the mark of all the Faithful.