Advent, week 4. Sunday. Words of THE WORD

Drop down dew from above, you heavens,
and let the clouds rain down the Just One;
let the earth be opened and bring forth a Savior. (Isaiah 45:8)

Pour forth, we beseech You, O Lord,
Your grace into our hearts,
that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ Your Son
was made known by the message of an Angel,
may by His Passion and Cross
be brought to the glory of the Resurrection.
Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM (click for full Psalm
Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved. (Psalm 80: 4).

GOSPEL EXCERPT (click for all readings)
Mary set out (Ἀναστᾶσα, Anastasa)
and traveled (ἐπορεύθη, eporeuthe) to the hill country in haste (μετὰ σπουδῆς, meta spoudes)
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting,
the infant leaped (ἐσκίρτησεν, eskirtesen) in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
“Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”
(Luke 1:39-45).”

On Advent’s final Sunday, God’s Word takes us on a journey (click for directions!) of close to 100 miles from the poverty of Nazareth to the arduous land of Ein Kerem, a small town slightly west of Jerusalem and home to Elizabeth and Zechariah (approximately 2 hours by car, perhaps as much as 8 days on foot for Mary!). Just prior to undertaking this journey, the young Galilean virgin has been visited by an Archangel (Gabriel), conversed with him and assented to becoming Mother of the “Son of God (Luke 1:35).” In what seems to be no time, Mary then is off to meet her relative and converse with her about all the great things the Most High God is doing. Here, as in every Gospel episode where Mary is present, she acts as a teacher, forming the listener in what it means to be a disciple of her Son. Those lessons of discipleship are found in a closer reading of the Sacred Text.

The English translation we listen to this Sunday has Mary ‘setting out’ and ‘traveling in haste.’ Fair enough; after all, Mary has to get from point A to point B, from Nazareth to Galilee. Yet throughout the Gospel that bears his name, the Evangelist Luke is the master of the journey motif. In the Lucan Text, many are involved in journeys and these are not simply non-descript movements from one town to another. All journeys in Luke are ripe with meaning and depth, with Jesus’ own journey to Jerusalem being the most prominent one. Human locomotion is only one part of the equation. For example, “Mary set out (Ἀναστᾶσα, Anastasa).” ἀνίστημι (anistemi) is the root for many of the words translated into English as resurrection (many Christian Rites still refer to Jesus’ Resurrection as the Anastasis)! Mary ‘setting out’ is far more than having a nice thought, ‘Oh, let me go visit my relative.’ As a good number of people have questioned, of all the people that Mary no doubt ‘visited’ and talked to about the Gabriel’s visit, why does Luke record Mary’s visit to Elizabeth? Why doesn’t Luke record Mary’s ‘visit’ to her own mother? While many legitimate insights can surface, a point to consider here is the verb ἀνίστημι. As such, ἀνίστημι reminds the listener that the activity and work of ἀνίστημι belongs to God the Father. ἀνίστημι, in expressing the ‘lifting up to new life,’ is essentially an intervention and a transformation of life done by Another: God the Father. In the Person Jesus, the Anastasis will be His definitive triumph over sin and death and the very act that enables disciples of all ages to encounter Him and be lead in the Holy Spirit to a relationship with God our Father.
This point is further intensified as Mary “traveled (ἐπορεύθη, eporeuthe)” “in haste (μετὰ σπουδῆς, meta spoudes).” πορεύομαι (poreuomai) is properly translated as “to travel” or “to make a journey.” πορεύομαι certainly has importance in Luke’s Gospel to present make of the journeys characteristic of his Gospel. But not surprisingly, the verb also expresses a deeper meaning. In the Greek world, the verb πορεύομαι conveyed a sense of a ‘plan being put into motion,’ a type of unfolding. Far from being a spur-of-the-moment road trip south, Mary’s journey is part of a much larger plan, a plan whose complete details allude her at this point in her life. Her travel to Elizabeth’s house is a part, an important part, in the unfolding of a plan that already is in motion that eventually will bring healing and wholeness to humanity. Hence, in the person Mary one ‘sees’ this intervening transformation (ἀνίστημι) already unfolding (πορεύομαι). But how? “In haste,” of course.
σπουδή (spoude) is translated here “haste.” “Haste” certainly expresses speed. Generally though in contemporary culture, “haste” can have a somewhat negative connotation. An action that is done “in haste,” can signal “hurried,” a ‘thoughtless, let me get this done in any way’ attitude that cares little for anything or anyone except mediocrity. In antiquity, σπουδή marked an action as “zealous,” “determined,” or “on-target.” Mary’s journey to Elizabeth is not a ‘haste makes waste’ trip. Mary’s journey is not a haphazard, mindless, serendipitous decision because she has nothing else better to do. No, the intervening transformation (ἀνίστημι) already unfolding (πορεύομαι) expresses a zealous plan (σπουδή) that eventually erupts in joy flowing into every nook and cranny of life.
As these final days of this preparatory Season draw to a close, there is still time to allow body, mind and heart to be attuned to the transforming intervention of the Incarnation. There is still time to permit body, mind and heart to see “the plan” already at work in life, especially in those dark and difficult moments of life. There is still time for body, mind and heart to cry out to the Holy Spirit for the Gift of Divine σπουδή: that zeal for Jesus and determined living for Him that pours His abundant joy into every aspect of our lives.