“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Elizabeth in our Gospel today, the last Sunday of our Advent preparation, greets Mary with these joyful words, known to us so well in the Hail Mary. They can sometimes seem like simple words of praise for Our Lady, like veneration given to a noble statue, but if we examine them more closely, we can come to understand more deeply the vibrant life they contain.
The heart of this moment is not so much Elizabeth’s veneration for the unique holiness of Mary, but the joy and awe with which she is consumed when she understands that Christ the Lord, the Savior and Redeemer has come to visit her. As Elizabeth herself says, “how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Her almost delirious, nearly disbelieving joy carries with it a tremendous gratitude. She realizes that she is suddenly in the presence of God’s love and salvation in a way she could never have imagined or expected—and she doesn’t even understand yet that Christ is actually God Himself! The situation is far better than even she understands in her joy! Elizabeth is stunned and humbled by the great gift she has received, and it is with this gratitude that she greets Mary, thanking the Mother of God for bringing Christ to her, and for listening in faith to the angel.
This last Sunday of Advent, with Christmas fast approaching, we can examine our own lives and ask how it is we greet Mary and the Child she carries. Do we share Elizabeth’s deep humility and gratitude? Do we allow ourselves to be astounded and shaken in joy by the goodness God has shown us? We can, especially with Christmas being so well-worn a holiday in many regards, sometimes take the powerful gift of Christ’s presence for granted. Even the mere fact of growing up with the Christmas story can sometimes dull us to the impact of what God has done for us. We should, of course, remind ourselves that we did not have to live in a world where God would come down to us, where we live, and visit us on our level. God could have remained far from our sight, hidden in heaven, either saving us from there merely through the words of prophets, or not saving us at all. He could have appeared in blinding power and might to destroy the wicked and put the good back in Eden. Yet, He chooses to join us here on Earth, gently introducing Himself to us in the arms of His mother, and offering His life as both sacrifice and example for our sake. What a good and gentle God we have, and how blessed are we to have come to know Him!
The wonder and awe in the words of Elizabeth, “blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb,” can begin to re-awaken in us the joy of this holy season, wherever it has become tired or rote. Inspired by her enthusiasm, we can greet Mary and Jesus in the same way, with our hearts leaping within us bewildered at our good fortune. With each Hail Mary, with each prayer of gratitude to our Savior, we can continue to grow in that hopeful joy, until one day it bears fruit in the eternal vision of God in heaven.