4th Sunday of Advent – December 20, 2015
You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old, from ancient times.
Today we are just a couple of days from the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ whose birth fulfilled the promise made by God from the beginning to bring forth from the offspring of Adam a savior who would restore mankind to God’s family, and more specifically the promise made to Abraham that from him would come forth this savior for mankind. We see this promise made by God in the third chapter of Genesis, after the fall from Grace of our first parents. In His great mercy, God curses the serpent, Satan, whose great lie brought death and despair to the human race, and then God promises a redeemer who will conquer the evil unleashed by Satan and sin in our world:
I will make you enemies of each other, you and the woman, your offspring and her offspring, He will crush your head, and you will strike His heel. (Gen 3:14)
Following that original disaster, then, that darkest of moment of human history, when our first parents chose sin above their love of God, it is revealed that God nonetheless took pity on his fallen children. The Creator promised them a redeemer who would crush the Head of the Evil One and enable us all to return to communion with Him and once again pursue the destiny that God intended for us from the beginning.
Moreover, it is also not by chance that the promise includes the woman who fully shares the enmity of her offspring against the Evil One. The woman will also have her triumph over the Evil One whose deceit led her to play a tragic role in the fall of mankind and commit a sin for which she would suffer and give birth, as a consequence of that sin, to a race condemned to death. She would still be the mother of all the living, but now the living dead, because they will descend from her deprived of that true immortal Life which had been hers to pass on to all her offspring through all the ages. But, based on this merciful promise of God, there is renewed hope, that through her offspring, woman would also be involved the re-generation of a race presently doomed to suffering and death.
So the Lord promises that “woman,” that is, a representative of all women, would also have her role in the restoration of the race, not this first representative woman who sinned, but another of her descendants, a new representative woman, the new Eve, who would be sinless and who would in fact triumph over Satan through her own offspring, the Savior whom she would give birth to, and who would definitively triumph over Satan, sin and death.
Indeed, for countless centuries, there has been this deadly enmity between the descendants of that first man and woman and the offspring of Satan, both his angelic followers and his human followers. Then the time finally had come for the ancient promise to be fulfilled through a new woman and through her blessed offspring, He who was an is the hope of all the ages.
The meeting of Elizabeth and Mary, recounted in today’s Gospel, is the blessed moment chosen by God to first proclaim that the ancient promise is being fulfilled, that the long waiting of the human race for the triumph over Satan, sin and death was at hand: The mother of His herald, Elizabeth speaks for the child in her womb, Blessed is the fruit of your womb.
For endless generations, for eons, women had carried the fruit of their wombs with the knowledge that the person given life by God in her womb, the child whom they would give birth to and nourish, would sadly one day die, for all the children they bore would, like all flesh, be subject to the law of suffering and death. But there was also the ancient promise that sustained the women of faith, the promise that death was not the last word.
Indeed, among the children of Abraham, this promise was the very substance of their hope, that one day a child would be born who would restore for Israel and all mankind the possibility of the destiny for which man was created in the beginning, for endless life not death, for happiness not suffering. They even came to know by a new revelation that this savior would come from the tribe of Juda, a descendant of David:
From you [Bethlehem-Ephratha] shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler of Israel, whose origin is from old, from ancient times..”
However, they also learned that this promise would be fulfilled only with the cooperation of a mother, a new Eve, who in giving birth would bring into the world the medicine of immortality for the offspring of mankind. For instance, the Book of Kings mentions the very special role of the Queen-Mother of the kings descended from David, indicating a linkage between the Davidic dynasty, which is the Messianic dynasty, and the promise made in Genesis concerning the woman and her offspring who would be the conqueror of Satan. Woman triumphs precisely in her role as Mother, in her role of bearing life. Thus will Woman share in the victory of her son over death.
How beautiful, then, this meeting of these two holy women who are both with child, the one carrying the greatest man purely born of flesh, and the other carrying the very Life of the world, the one whose “origin is of old,” from “ancient times.” How fitting, then, that the arrival of the Messiah should first be celebrated by this encounter between two women whose persons and wombs are blessed beyond all other women, the one carrying the new Elijah, the other carrying the very Son of God. Salvation will not come through an earthly battle of armies led by a hero, but through the blessed generosity of bearing life, the role of the woman, and the generosity of surrendering that same life, the role of the offspring.
From that day, every woman who shares the faith of Elizabeth and Mary can give birth in a heavenly joy, a joy based upon the truth that now every child has a well founded hope for immortality, for eternal life, a hope based upon faith in the fruit of Mary’s womb.
And from that day, all of us can have that same kind of joyful experience of the coming of the Lord to greet us, recalling how He sanctified us in the womb of Holy Mother Church, just as John “leaped for joy” when he was sanctified in the womb of Elizabeth, simply by the presence of God in the womb of Mary.
Every time we approach the altar, our faith, like Mary’s or Elizabeth’s, should fill us with that unique joy and humility that we see in Elizabeth who greets Mary so beautifully, “But who am I that my Lord should come to me?” And each of us can add, “but who am I that the Mother of my Lord should bring him to me?” Then truly will the grace of her blessed offspring stir in our souls and more deeply transform us into his brothers and sisters, creatures no longer destined for death, but destined now for eternal life and for a joy that her Son assures us cannot be taken away.