Two days before Christmas, we hear the same Gospel reading as that at Mass two days ago. This repetition echoes the coming near of God described by the reflection two days ago: God desires to visit us, bearing contagious joy.
However, what if the circumstances of our lives do not lend us to experience happiness or joy? What if we are mourning the loss of a loved one who passed away around this time? Or wrestling with the loss of lives at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut? Or troubled by the deep underlying issues surrounding that tragedy or the rising purchase of guns and large ammunition clips? Or worried about the gridlocked fiscal cliff negotiations?
The young Mary of Nazareth had many concerns and faced many unknowns when she received news of her pregnancy. Yet, she traveled “in haste” to assist her older cousin Elizabeth (Lk 1:39). Her journey to be of helped seemed to bring her peace which erupted in joy when she arrived.
This Advent has seemed more like Lent to me. My young cousin Thy passed away less than three weeks ago due to a sudden onset of a rare blood disease. Some family members and I were able to leave “in haste” to be at her bedside when she went to the next life. These days were not marked by joy, but they were sustained by peace. I received many unexpected blessings through her courageous spirit, through the way she died surrounded by many loved ones and medical personnel singing the Prayer of St. Francis, through the way she deeply impacted the hospital staff, through the way she brought tears of gratitude to a local pastor who anointed her, and through the way so many of her work colleagues were moved and consoled at the wake and funeral Mass. In ways I am unable to understand or describe, I experience consistent peace, even though I am still sad and grieving her loss. A peace underlying sadness and uncertainty; a peace amidst challenging and troubling realities; a peace that occasionally erupts in joy.
God’s coming near elicits a peace within. Christ the God-child brings peace by being peace. Through Mary’s journey to visit and to serve, the child in her womb enables her to receive peace and to bear peace. We are given the same grace with a similar promise as we journey to visit others. Will we trust this promise of peace?