The image of Mary greeting Elizabeth is filled with meaning for us as we begin our celebration of the feast of Christmas. On the surface, it is the meeting of two cousins - just a friendly visit. But these two women have been favored by the Lord and filled with unexpected new life. It is the child in Elizabeth's womb who leaps at the approach of Mary carrying her hidden treasure.
It is God Himself who uses this simple visitation to announce the final stage of Salvation History.
As we are touched once again by the mystery of Christmas, we should try to be more fully aware of the many ways that God continues to visit us, to touch us, to announce good news to us.
He comes in unexpected disguises, in strange circumstances, using unusual people and places. So often we do not recognize His visitation, His coming into our lives. We see only the surface, the obvious. And we miss the opportunity to leap for joy at the nearness of our God.
That should be the attitude we bring to the Christmas holydays ...one of wonder and surprise. We should learn again to recognize the presence of God in the ordinary people and things around us ...in the innocence of our infants, in the questioning of our seven-year olds, in the energy and restlessness of our teenagers, in the silent embrace of lovers, in the courage and generosity of the young-married, in the freedom and dedication of single adults, in the wisdom and patience of parents, in the virtuosity of artists, in the industrious creativity of the business person, in the gifted hands, hearts and minds of those in the medical professions, in the fascinating agility of legal minds, in the peaceful strength of the aging, and in the quiet resignation of the suffering.
In all of these life-circumstances, the presence of God is hidden. We need to be able to recognize it with the eyes of faith. We need to understand that our God continues to visit us, to announce good news to us in unexpected ways. We want to be able to leap for Joy because we know that He is near us, within us. Like Mary, we need to trust that His promises to us will be fulfilled.
So much of the darkness and despair of the world comes from the sense of the absence God. We think He does not care; He does not hear our cries; He does not feel our pain. We so easily miss the moments of His rebirth in our lives.
Christmas is such a powerful, intimate reminder that, once we believe, we are never alone. Once we accept the miracle of God-made-man, then every facet of human life takes on a new dimension ...a Jesus-dimension. Everything is touched by His spirit of love, of peace, of hope.
The ancient story that is forever new breaks once again upon our restless world, and because the Word has been made flesh we are remade, lifted up, revived. Our distant, faceless, timeless God has taken a mortal body as His own. He has entered our time and come to our place. He has grown up among us, learned our language, played our games, sang our songs, shared our pain and sorrow, and embraced to the full our human fellowship.
The eternal Word needed to be spoken on our tongue. We needed someone heaven-sent to teach us to dare to call God "Abba, Father." The word "love" had to be translated in terms that the simplest one among us could understand: compassion, mercy, and forgiveness. Jesus gave new meaning to the words "brother", "sister," "neighbor," "prodigal," "Samaritan." He shocked the world of the self-righteous by suggesting that the poor, the lepers, the prostitutes and the tax collectors would the very first to enter the kingdom of God. He tossed the pearl of forgiveness and hope to adulteresses and thieves. And He added the word "resurrection" to the vocabulary of faith.
The Word became flesh... and all flesh is transformed. The glory of God is lavished like golden sunshine on an infant in a manger, on shepherds, on Wiseman from the East...and all humanity understands better what it means to be stamped with the image of God.
In the quiet and promise of Christmas we rediscover the incredible power of God's love. We realize once again that He continues to be present to us, that He is aware of our needs, concerned for our pain and our sorrow. He is as near as our very breath, within us, around us. Christmas is a journey of the heart.