Reflection for 4th Sunday of Advent
These days we are celebrating the winter solstice. The passage grave in the world historical site in Newgrange Co Meath was constructed five thousand years ago. The people who built it were preoccupied with winter, darkness and death. Above the entrance to this passage there is a small opening through which the sun shines during the winter solstice and its rays penetrate some 50 feet into the dark inner chambers. What they built was a reminder that in the darkest of corners light will always shine.
Darkening skies, longer nights announce the winter. For a child it’s a time for Santa, a time to look forward to opening the Christmas gifts, a time to enjoy a stroll in a Christmas lit city street or a time of wishing for a white Christmas
There can be a special energy in mid-winter but as adults we need reminders of the richness in this time of year.
Today’s Gospel gives us Mary as a reminder of the true meaning of Advent and Christmas.
While we are waiting for the celebration of the birth of Christ on Christmas day, Mary is like the light that shines in the darkest corner of the Newgrange chamber. She invites us to pause in the darkness of this wintertime and to focus not on herself but on her inner chamber where she carries Christ. The Gospel tells the story of Mary visiting Elizabeth her cousin. She had set out on a long journey and when the cousins met, immediately the child that Elizabeth was carrying recognised Jesus.
This moment is summed up so beautifully in the poem by Ruth Mary Fox called
Into the hillside country Mary went
Carrying Christ, and all along the road
The Christ she carried generously bestowed His grace on those she met,
She had not meant to tell she carried Christ.
She was content to hide his love for her.
But about her glowed such joy that into stony hearts love flowed,
And even to the unborn John Christ’s grace was sent.
The response to the psalm today could be Mary’s prayer for us and our own prayer as we contemplate this special moment:
God of hosts bring us back, let your face shine on us and we shall be saved.
Our Liturgy today is inviting us back, back to rediscover God living among us whatever our circumstances may be now. The reading from the Old Testament shows us Bethlehem the most ordinary of places but here Jesus will be born in poverty. Relatives visiting, people coming home, people without a home are all part of Christmas– and here, as it was for Mary and Elizabeth is where we find God.
Mary’s visit to Judea and later her going to Bethlehem celebrate the God who is faithful to the poor and to those who reach out to others.
In the words of Patrick Kavanagh about his mother, Mary reminds us:
“Among your earthiest words the angels stray”
Sr Bridget O’Connell FMA, Salesian Community, Limerick, Ireland