Did you notice in all three readings today that they all deal with being “small”? Not great; not grand; not overpowering: SMALL. The town of Bethlehem is so small it does not even make the list of the tribes of Judah. Mary is just a simple country teenager who, pregnant, sets out to go to her cousin as one woman to another. And the letter to the Hebrews reminds us that Jesus, the Son of God, knows that God does not look for sacrifices and oblations, thunder and big shows. But in a body which you prepared for me, I come to do your will, O God!
And the person who captures our attention, the central figure of today is not the Roman emperor, or any general or prince; not the richest man in Jerusalem or the biggest landowner in Galilee. It is a young Jewish maiden from Nazareth. In the quiet of her room, engaged to Joseph the carpenter, she is asked by an angel to say YES to God’s plan. And she does; because, as St. Bernard says, “She bore him in her heart before she bore him in her womb.” In her deepest being she believed. She believed that what God promised would be done and she said YES!
Think for a moment what that YES meant. If she had not freely said yes to God’s plan, how would God have saved us? If she had not had that full heart open to God and had been unwilling to bear the Son of God in her womb and bring him into the world, what would have happened to our world? What hope could we have? What sense of loss of direction and emptiness of meaning would our lives have suffered. There would be no everlasting joy, no love that would endure beyond the daily experiences of lives; and we would not be confident of the merciful ove of God the Father as revealed to us in his Son made man, our brother, Jesus.
She believed and it was done unto her according to God’s will. Her YES opened up salvation to us all. And so for that alone we love her and we honor her. By that alone she became not only the Mother of God’s son but the woman whom her son gave to us all as our mother. How much has she shown us what being one with Jesus means. For she who brought him into the world never let him out of her heart. She was with him always, teaching him and learning from him, walking with him and being led by him; standing at the cross as he died and, in her heart, she too died. Yet at that very moment, He gave her to us and she said YES once again. Yes to becoming his first disciple; and thus yes to becoming the Mother of the Church and the Mother of us all.
Yet she always remained small by the standards of the world. In the eyes of her neighbors and in the eyes of the world, she was small. But in the eyes of God and in the eyes of all the faithful, she is the one to whom we turn to learn how to be faithful to her Son and how to live our lives as his disciples.
When she arrived at Elizabeth’s house set atop a very steep hill in Ein Karem, she greeted her cousin. But her cousin, almost instinctively, and certainly guided by the Holy Spirit, says in reply, How does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? Mary comes to Elizabeth to offer her the help of one woman to another. At the same time, she brings with her in her womb the Lord who will save them and us. But Mary does something more at that moment. As she comes to help her cousin, she acts as the first disciple of her Son and shows us how we are called to bring Jesus to one another.
Thus Sunday, in this Holy Year of Mercy, Mary is given to us in her visitation to Elizabeth so that we can learn from her how great it is to believe in the promises of God. Once we believe as she did and we do, then we are called to act as she did because we too are bearers of Jesus to the world. She carried him in her womb for nine months but she carried him in her heart till the day she returned to the Father. We too carry him in our hearts and must bring Him to our families, to our neighbors, to all our parishioners, to our pastor, to those we love and, even more, to those whom we may have injured or insulted or rejected or even hated! The Year of Mercy is the year when we ask her, the Mother of Mercy, to teach us by her example, to guide us by her prayer and to encourage us by her life of union with her Son in faith to be givers of God’s love to one and all.
On Christmas we will be with her in Bethlehem, the littlest of cities, as Jesus, the small little baby, is born again in our hearts. This Christmas because we believe we shall receive all of the blessings of Jesus, whose greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; the one who is our peace. As we look on Mary with her child, we too must say Yes to God and yes to her Son. We too must pledge to be like her and hasten out from this Church to bring him with us to others who need to find him through our care, our forgiveness, our words and deeds of mercy. And then Mary will say of us: Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled!