“Blessed is she who believed that the Lord would fulfil the promise he made to her.” (Luke 1:45)

Advent is a time of waiting. It is not just a matter of putting in the time; it is a waiting with expectation. Today’s Gospel puts before us the image of two pregnant women meeting together as a great and wonderful image for this time. Like pregnancy, Advent points to the future. At the end of this week we will celebrate the birth of Jesus, the fulfilment of the promise made to Mary. Many things can go wrong in a pregnancy, but the focus doesn’t lie there. Rather, it centres in the promised new life, which when we become conscious of it does bring a leap of the joy-in-expectation. (Luke 1:44) Though a fragile and precarious time, pregnancy is a proclamation of good-news-in-advance, which is based solely on a promise and the hope it engenders. We are an Advent People who wait for our coming Lord; we ought to be a People joyful in our waiting with eager longing — as St Paul puts it: ‘We hope for what we do not see, and with patience we eagerly expect it.’ (Romans 8:25) Is this not what the image a pregnant woman portrays? Our waiting is the proclamation of our hope in the Good News.

Matthew’s Jesus tells us, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20) Mary and Elizabeth, two ordinary and insignificant women in the back blocks of nowhere, came together … and celebrated the presence of the Lord in their midst. (Luke 1:42-46) We who gather in Jesus’ name, ordinary and obscure as we are, ought likewise to celebrate the presence of Emmanuel, the God-who-is-with-us — even though, like Mary and Elizabeth, when we look around all we see is you and me. (Matthew 1:23) Elizabeth pronounces Mary to be blessed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:42) She is blessed through being pregnant with the Lord. In our gathering we, too, are pregnant with the Lord; we, too, are blessed; we, too, should celebrate God’s blessing. Elizabeth goes on to elaborate what Mary has done to deserve such honour: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:45) Our call is to likewise believe and wait for the fulfilment of the promise given us in our gathering. For doing this we, too, will be blessed. Later, after Jesus was born, we are told of a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, who was eagerly waiting just so. He was a good man, a lover of God who kept himself pure, and the Spirit of holiness rested upon him. And he believed in the immanent coming of the Messiah: ‘It had been made known to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he should see the Christ of the Lord,’ we are told. (Luke 2:25-26. C.f.: John 21:23) In a sense, his is our vocation, too: we are to keep ourselves pure in eager expectation of the Lord’s coming so as to be ready for it; we ought always be mindful of the Lord’s immanent presence in our midst. As it is for pregnant women, our focus has to be on his coming. (C.f.: Luke 12:40, 46) We are an Advent People, a People in waiting.

Later in this Gospel we are told of ‘a woman in the crowd who raised her voice and said to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27- 28) In saying this Jesus in no way means to denigrate his mother’s blessing, but rather to amplify it. Previously he had said to those who had gathered around him, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” (Luke 8:21) What Jesus is saying is a recognition of what his mother did: she heard God’s Word and kept it. It is for this that she is called ‘Blessed.’ Mary, the Mother of Jesus, thus point to what we must do in this our time of waiting for the Lord’s coming: we must listen to God’s Word and put it into practice, we must let it become flesh in our flesh, so to speak. (John 1:14) For us, too, it can be a troubling Word, and we might wonder how on earth we might keep it. (Luke 1:29, 34) But these are only difficulties that flow from the limitations of our humanity. (Romans 7:14ff. C.f.: Luke 8:14) Like Mary, we are called to accept the Lord’s assurance, “Nothing is impossible to God” (Luke 1:37), and believe in the promise that he will come and we will see him again. (Luke 8:21) It still is as Jesus put it to his disciples when his hour had come: “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:21-22)

Our is a call to hold onto the joy that comes in our expectation, despite the sorrows that might accompany it. ‘For this hope we are saved,’ as St Paul puts it. (Romans 8:24. C.f.: 5:1- 5) Or as Elizabeth would put it: “Blessed are we who believe that the promise made us by the Lord will be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:45) Just what this hope will turn out to be we do not know; all we know is ‘that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.’ (1 John 3:2. C.f.: Luke 1:66; Romans 7:24-25) This is the hope in our time of waiting. With Mary we might say, “How can this be?” And the answer is the same: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” (Luke 1:35) Here is the source of our joy, for this Spirit was given by the Lord as his parting gift to us. (John 20:22) So, ‘our hope will not put us to shame,’ and ‘we can boast on our hope in God’s power,’ as St Paul puts it. (Romans 5:2, 5) Our Advent hope is expressed in a confident joy. (C.f.: Romans 4:20-21) For this hope we will be saved. We are indeed truly blessed.

By Dom Steele Hartmann OCSO