‘Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.’ — Luke 1:45

As always, our brief season of Advent seems to have slipped by, and it is sobering to think that Christmas is just a few days away. Excitement levels (especially with our children) and the heightened sense of expectation are certainly very obvious. Not surprisingly, the prayers, music and readings at the Mass also have this atmosphere of joyful anticipation. The Prayer after Communion for this Sunday can sum up our thoughts and feelings well:

   …We pray Almighty God,
   that as the feast day of our
   salvation draws ever nearer,
   so we may press forward all
   the more eagerly
   to the worthy celebration of the
   mystery of your Son’s Nativity.

Our readings, hymns and prayers also have the sense of announcing the coming of the Savior, and of making clear who He will be. In the first reading at Mass, we hear from the prophet Micah (5:1-4). Micah lived at the end of the eighth century BC, centuries before the coming of Jesus. He describes two key things. First, he noted that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Secondly, gave a description or image of the Messiah as a shepherd: one who would lead his flock. Psalm 80 also sings of the coming Savior as a shepherd. Our response to each verse of the psalm could be used as a brief but beautiful prayer that one might say each day: “Lord let us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.”

Our Second Reading is taken from the Letter to the Hebrews. Scholars debate about the purpose and precise authorship of this letter, but it is generally thought to be an exhortation to encourage the very early Christians who were facing many difficulties. In the passage read on Sunday, we are given three further images of the Savior. Jesus is shepherd, but also our high priest. He is also the one who “comes to do God’s will:” the obedient servant. Furthermore, he is a sacrifice; that is one who “makes holy” (for this is the original meaning of the word sacrifice).

At Mass on the Fourth Sunday, our Gospel is always about one of the annunciations made in preparation for the coming of the Messiah (yes, in a way, there is more than one annunciation Gospel…not just the annunciation of the archangel Gabriel to Mary!). In Year A, we would read about the angel of the Lord appearing to St. Joseph in a dream and telling him to take Mary for his wife. In Year B of our three-year cycle, we would hear the most familiar annunciation: the annunciation of the archangel Gabriel to Mary.

As we are in Year C, we hear what is called the Gospel of the Visitation, when Mary goes to meet her kinswoman Elizabeth. Elizabeth recognizes the mother of her Lord, and St. John the Baptist leaps for joy in his mother’s womb: both, therefore, announcing that the Messiah is near. We can also think of the selfless effort Mary made to go to her kinswoman. For one thing, she has just received the amazing news that she is to be the mother of the Savior. She does not sit at home brooding, but immediately sets out “in haste” to help Elizabeth. We should note that Mary’s journey would have been a long and strenuous one too.

The Visitation Gospel invites us not only to ponder the events that led up to the birth of Jesus at Christmas. It also invites us to think about our response to this annunciation of the good news of salvation. In other words, how can we announce the Messiah and show people just who Jesus is…?

Like the Gospel of the Visitation we hear today, we can imitate Mary in her selfless generosity, as she sets out to help Elizabeth. We can also grow in faith, imitating Mary, who was blessed because she believed that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled, and because her soul magnified the Lord (cf. Luke 1:41-46). We can also be like Elizabeth who was open to being filled with the Holy Spirit, so that she then recognized the presence of God (Luke 1:41-43). Like John the Baptist we can leap for joy, or at least be heralds of the “Gospel of Joy” through our words and actions.

As the season of Christmas fast approaches, let us indeed give great thanks for the coming of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Let us remember that our celebrations are ultimately about what Jesus came and did for us: Christmas and Easter are closely bound together. We can gladly receive God’s great love and mercy, but then we must go forth and show the face of Jesus to others.