Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 1:39-45) for the Fourth Sunday of Advent presents us with the scene of the Visitation. Mary goes to her cousin, Elizabeth, who is pregnant with John the Baptist, and the two women rejoice in one another’s presence — and their children do, too! Just before this, Mary received the message from the angel Gabriel that she would be the Mother of Jesus, who is the Son of God. When Mary went to visit Elizabeth, it was through the presence of the Holy Spirit that Elizabeth recognized Mary’s pregnancy. Not only Elizabeth knew, however. Baby John, in Elizabeth’s womb, leapt for joy at Mary’s voice, because the Son of God was present.

At this moment, Elizabeth asked a poignant question: “Why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” God Himself, carried in the womb of Mary, has visited His people (and Elizabeth personally) in a new way. Elizabeth is completely humbled and grateful. She probably never expected anything like this could happen to her. She was beyond childbearing age, as we know from earlier in the Gospel, and hidden away in her pregnancy, telling no one what happened. Mary found out from the angel Gabriel and she made haste to go to Elizabeth and assist her in her pregnancy. Mary is attentive to Elizabeth because God has been attentive to her. He is attentive to all His people, insignificant though they be. All the contours of each life are known to Him and all the events of history. No one is unimportant to Him.

The First Reading from the prophet Micah (5:1-4a) points out the birthplace of the Messiah, hundreds of years before it happened. Bethlehem was just a little town, but it would be forever known and remembered because it had a place in God’s plan. Nothing and no one is overlooked by God. The prophet Micah goes on to say that this ruler, the one they are awaiting, will have His origin from of old, from ancient days. Therefore, he not only prophecies about the birthplace of the Messiah, but also what the Messiah will be like. In a veiled way, Micah is speaking about the child Jesus’ origin in God. Elizabeth recognized immediately that Mary’s child was different — remember that she refers to Mary as the mother of my Lord. She was so attentive to the Holy Spirit and to God’s work that she knew something about Jesus before He had ever told a parable or worked a miracle … that Jesus was the Lord.

God’s work does require our attention, and if we watch, then we will see that He does great things in small places, like Bethlehem or Elizabeth’s house. 

The letter to the Hebrews (10:5-10), Sunday’s Second Reading, shows that God’s preparations are not just about times and places. The whole Old Testament, including all God’s deeds and words, were about one thing only: to prepare a people and a home for Jesus to be born. All the sacrifices and rituals of the Old Testament give way before Jesus. They have fulfilled their function, which was to point to one, perfect sacrifice: Jesus’ own life, His body given for us.

This is what God came to do. The first people to understand this were Mary, Elizabeth and the baby John the Baptist. They were insignificant in the world’s eyes, but God knew who they were and His salvation began with them. He comes to visit us, too.  Perhaps we can recognize God’s presence like they did, in small places and surprising ways.