“Hark! my lover – here he comes …” – Sgs 2:8
“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” – Lk 1:45
The readings today are spectacularly rich. They depict special visitations. The first portrays a breathless anticipation of a lover visiting his beloved, beckoning her to “Arise, and come!” The second paints a picture of the young Mary visiting her older relative Elizabeth, triggering bursts of joy. This painting by a Vietnamese Buddhist invites us to imagine the scene of this visitation:
Take time to look at the picture. There are several distinguishing features. A meeting of poor peasant women. Notice the mud house with bamboo and straw roof … ceiling hanging down … walls peeling off. Mary arrives unexpectedly, before Elizabeth can tidy up. Notice the light surrounding the young Mary … how she arrives ... barely in the door … handbag barely off her shoulders … her left palm open and lifted up … feet ready to move … eyes brimming with eagerness … with good news ... A posture of total openness … Joy overflowing in both women. We can almost see the child in Elizabeth’s womb, leaping for joy …
This joyful visitation foreshadows what is to come as Christmas draws near: God is coming to visit, in our home, as we are. Like Mary with the child in her womb visiting Elizabeth with her child in her womb.
I often confuse joy with happiness. Yet there is a key difference. Happiness is about “getting what you want” while joy is about “wanting what you get.” Happiness is dependent on external circumstances, triggering feelings that comes and goes. Joy is more of an attitude of openness to life as it unfolds, an acceptance of the way things are. It lasts beyond feelings of satisfaction, even when things do not go one’s way.
Christmas is not always rosy or easy for many of us. We don’t get the gifts we want. We don’t have enough time or resources to give the gifts we’d like. We don’t always get the visitors we prefer. We attend gatherings with people with whom conflict or tension exists. In these difficult economic times and busy holidays, happiness seems fleeting.
Yet, what if God desires to be with us as we struggle to embrace our current worries, troubled past, uncertain futures, deep fears, and pains? Even as we wrestle with guilt, forgiveness, unhealthy attachments, addictions … longing for home, for healing, yearning to embrace that we are simply loved. What if it is through our own fragile humanity – that mysterious mix of grace and fall, beauty and brokenness, lights and shadows – that God visits us, that God comes near? What if God wants to visit us bearing joy rather than happiness?
What if God hides in the people who visit us this holiday? How can we visit others in a way that helps them experience God’s coming near? What if we visit someone outside our present circle of friends, family, and comfort?