This Advent, we’re excited to share excerpts from the new book The Light of the World: Daily Meditations for Advent and Christmas, by Phyllis Zagano. This week, we have the reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Advent.
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Year A: Isaiah 7:10–14; Romans 1:1–7; Matthew 1:18–24
Year B: 2 Samuel 7:1–5, 8b–12, 14a, 16; Romans 16:25–27; Luke 1:26–38
Year C: Micah 5:1–4a; Hebrews 10:5–10; Luke 1:39–45
“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is
the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing
will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am
the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according
to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Every gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Advent focuses on one person: Mary, the mother of Jesus. Matthew recounts the annunciation, and Luke gives it more detail. The final gospel in the church’s three-year cycle follows the Lucan narrative and tells of the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, possibly to the hilltop town of Ein Karem southwest of Jerusalem.
By tradition, John the Baptist was born at Ein Karem, so it would make sense that Mary, on hearing her own news, would travel to John’s mother, her cousin Elizabeth, to verify the added news that Elizabeth was also pregnant. Naysayers point out that Nazareth and Ein Karem are about ninety miles apart, but even walking slowly a woman could cover the distance in three or four days, and there is a tradition that Mary traveled by donkey.
And, on foot or donkey, why would she not want to go? The angel’s announcement is quite precise and quite stunning. Mary, the simple woman—a girl, really—is to become the mother of the promised one, the savior of humanity, the Christ.
I walked up that hill once, to the place tradition says Mary met Elizabeth, to where they greeted each other and shared their news. It is a very steep climb, and when I made it I was much older than she. There is a sacredness to the place that words cannot box in. A feeling surrounds the place. It is the feeling, the sense, that so many other pilgrims, before, during, and after my own visit, were and would be consumed by the mystery of the Incarnation at that very spot.
Nothing, apparently, is impossible for God.
Atop the hill, the Franciscans keep a church at once feminine and strong. Above the church’s entrance a mosaic of Mary traveling on a donkey oversees the courtyard where a modern statue of Mary meeting Elizabeth stands surrounded by more than forty ceramic tablets, each with the words of Mary’s Magnificat in a different language of the world.
Inside, every detail speaks to Mary’s experience and intuition, and to that of every woman. Underfoot, some of Mary’s symbols—I recall the rose, a dove, a lily—appear in fine mosaic.
What is all this stone and plaster about? We can get very jaded at memorials and churches. We can say tradition needs a shaker-full of salt. We can say that none of this actually happened.
Or we can sit in peace with the first few joyful mysteries of the Rosary, with the Annunciation and the Visitation. We can choose to believe or not to believe that the angel of God asked Mary to participate fully in God’s plan for her. We can believe or not believe that we are asked the same. She was terrified. So, often, are we as well. I think the consolation Mary offers is the fact that God’s plans for us always work out, even if our own plans do not.
A Grace for Today
Lord, grant me the grace to accept your invitations.
Journey through Advent with internationally acclaimed author Phyllis Zagano as she explores the rich themes of this holy season. As explored by Zagano, Advent is a time of darkness and light, increase and decrease. The Light of the World gently unfolds the rhythms of these sacred weeks, inviting readers into a deep and prayerful journey to Christmas.