December 21, 2012

The Coming of Christmas and the Mystery of the Visitation

The Visitation, like the Annunciation, is one of the great mysteries we think about as we prepare for Christmas.  These sacred events form us and prepare us for the special way the Lord wants to visit us this Christmas.   The Annunciation refers to the conversation of the Archangel Gabriel with Mary and the Visitation refers to the seventy five mile journey Mary made from Galilee to a little village on the outskirts of Jerusalem (traditionally, Ain Karem or the Spring of the Vineyard) to serve her elderly cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant with John the Baptist.

The loving service Mary made haste to show Elizabeth was the result of the prayerful encounter she had through the ministry of the Angel: Gabriel explained that her cousin's remarkable pregnancy would be a sign confirming his even more remarkable announcement to the Mother of the Messiah.  Mary made haste to her cousin not merely to have confirmation for herself -- even more, she realized her cousin needed her.

The whole mystery of Christmas and all the events that lead up to it is a mystery of love - divine love entering into human love and human love allowing itself to be directed by divine love.  It is a mystery of apostolic contemplation.

All Christian contemplation -- when it is truly Christian -- follows the pattern of the Annunciation and the Visitation -- prayer not only enjoys the presence of God, but it is a threshold into apostolic action.  To be an apostle is to be sent and Gabriel's words to Mary contained this apostolic dimension -- if historically apostolate was part of preparing for the Messiah, then today apostolate must be part of our mystical preparation to celebrate God's presence among us in Christ Jesus.

What is true of Mary is true for all believers:  heavenly encounters compel us to love one another more fiercely and more tenderly.  While every day of the Christian life should be an experience of this mystery, Advent is a special time when -- in the midst of these darker and colder days when people tend to need each other just a little more than at other times - we allow the Lord to touch us with His generous love so that we might love one another a little more generously in return.