Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas 2018

Sister JulieAnn Sheahan

December 21, 2018

The Fourth Sunday of Advent is here and close behind is the Feast of the Incarnation! We share a Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection December 23 and 25 2018. You will find both the Fourth Sunday of Advent and various Christmas excerpts. Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photos: Holy Family Convent Advent tree wreath, Manitowoc, Wisconsin, Christ the Light Parish, Cambridge, Ohio

Luke 1:39-45

During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Background

The Gospel for this Sunday follows immediately after Luke’s description of Mary accepting the invitation to be the mother of Jesus. Some have suggested that Mary went to visit Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist, in order to help Elizabeth. But Luke reports that Mary left Elizabeth before John was born. “Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home. When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child, she gave birth to a son.” (Luke 1:56-57) Therefore Mary would have left Elizabeth during that period when she would have needed the most assistance.

Luke does not indicate a precise location from which Mary left, nor the town to which she went. This would seem to indicate that it was both an insignificant place and not important for what he wants his community to know. But what Luke’s community would notice is that Mary seems to be traveling alone. Women in this culture were always in the company of other women, children, and/or a male protector. For Mary, a fourteen-year-old girl, to travel alone would be enough to accuse her of being a shameful character. Yet the text calls Mary “blessed” three different times: twice in verse 42, for her unique role in God’s plan, and lastly in verse 45 for her faith in God. On one hand, the details that Luke includes seem to cast Mary in a rather suspicious light, yet he strongly asserts that she is blessed.

One explanation is based in the people’s understanding of procreation at the time. Men were believed to implant a full but miniature human being within a woman. The woman’s role was to nurture the minute human being within her body until it was ready to be born and begin its independent life. With this understanding, the pregnant Mary was not traveling alone but with a male protector who is so powerful that even the unborn John the Baptist leaps within Elizabeth’s womb when Mary enters their presence.

Reflection Questions

1. What is your experience of women telling you that they are pregnant? What happens within you when you hear their news?
2. When you hear in today’s gospel that Mary set out in haste to visit Elisabeth…
3. If you too had been visiting Elizabeth when Mary arrived at the house, you would have said to her…
4. Luke’s portrait of Mary emphasized her faith and her willingness to do things that might cast her in a poor light before others. How does this view of Mary fit with your image of Mary?
5. When you think of people who you consider truly people of faith and trust in God, do you find that they do things that might be considered out of character or even scandalous?
6. Can you talk to God now about how he used Mary to bring Jesus into the world, or about your own desire to be an instrument of God’s presence in your world, or about some other thought that this gospel raised within you?