-Fourth Sunday of Advent-C
Children are really something. There was a mother and father who had a two-year-old boy. They lived in Chicago in a high-rise apartment on the 42nd floor.
Every morning the father would hug and kiss his wife and little boy goodbye and then get in the elevator right across the hall. And every evening his little boy would be standing in the door of the apartment, ready to greet his dad when the elevator doors opened.
A few years later, this boy was able to verbalize to his mom and dad what he had thought was going on. He had believed that his dad left the apartment every morning, spent the day in the elevator, and then at night came out again.
Well, that was a two-year-old’s perception. Children are really something!
We hear in the Gospel today about two babies in the womb who are not only “really something” – they mean everything to us in God’s plan for our salvation. The Gospel tells us about two expectant mothers. Mary was carrying God’s own Son, Jesus, in her womb. And Mary’s older relative, Elizabeth, was carrying John the Baptist in her womb. And John would point out Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Both of these pregnancies were so important that they had been announced by the Archangel Gabriel. Gabriel’s coming to Mary and asking her to be the mother of God’s Son is the first Joyful Mystery of the Rosary: the Annunciation.
And today’s Gospel is the scene of the second Joyful Mystery: the Visitation. Mary goes to visit Elizabeth and assist her with her pregnancy. And when Mary arrives, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and she is the first person to announce the arrival of the Messiah: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.”
Elizabeth was in the sixth month of her pregnancy, so Mary stays with Elizabeth for three months, until John is born.
Mary and Elizabeth were joyful about their pregnancies, even though they were both untimely. Mary conceived God’s Son through the power of the Holy Spirit while she was engaged to Joseph and before they lived together. Elizabeth was beyond the age when women would normally have children. She conceived with her husband, Zechariah, through God’s intervention.
Mary and Elizabeth were women of faith, but their faith did not insulate them from the sorrows of life. Both of them would lose their sons at an early age. John the Baptist was about thirty-three when he was beheaded in prison by King Herod. Jesus was also about thirty-three when He was crucified for our salvation. But through it all, Mary and Elizabeth trusted in God and in His love for them.
Marie Pemberton wrote a book about her son, Jeremy, who died from leukemia at the age of four. They lived next door to another couple who had a four-year-old son named Christopher. And Christopher and Jeremy were best buddies.
After Jeremy died, Marie found it very difficult to be around Christopher because he reminded her so much of him. One day Christopher asked Marie, “Why did Jeremy die?” Marie could not bring herself to attempt an answer, so she told Christopher to go home and ask his mother. And he did. It was the month of June.
In December, Marie and her husband decided to soft-pedal Christmas this time around. And then Ellie, Christopher’s mother, invited Marie to come over to see their Christmas decorations. Marie was reluctant but finally accepted.
When they got in the house, Ellie said, “Marie, what I really want to show you is our nativity scene.” Marie noticed that it looked alright, except that there were two babies in the manger.
And Ellie explained: “Remember in the summer when you told Christopher to ask me why Jeremy had died? The best I could do was to tell him that Jeremy was now with Jesus.
“So when we were putting up the nativity set and placing Jesus in the manger, Christopher got one of his little sister’s baby dolls and put it in the manger next to Jesus. We asked him why he did this, and Christopher said that the doll was like Jeremy, who was now with Jesus.”
Marie said that this was a turning point in her grieving. It did not take away the pain, but it did help to put it in perspective. That four-year-old theologian named Christopher had helped her understand that Jesus was born in Bethlehem so that we could be with Him forever in heaven.
Jeremy was with Jesus. Yes, children are really something!
As I look around this church today, I know that some of you are missing someone very badly this Christmas. Perhaps someone that you love is not with you now because God has called them home to heaven. But this can still be a very special Christmas for you – as it was for Marie.
Why did Jesus come into our world? He was born to die for our sins and save us, so that we could be with Him forever in heaven. That is our faith.
We see two women of great faith in today’s Gospel – Mary and Elizabeth. Their faith did not protect them from suffering, but it brought them the grace and the strength to get through it.
And through God’s grace, the faith of Mary and Elizabeth, the faith of Marie and Christopher can be ours too.
Jeremy is with Jesus. And Jesus is with us.
Emmanuel – God with us – is His name and His promise.