Who does not get excited to see a baby? Who is not thrilled to hear that someone in the family is pregnant? Who is not moved by a small child’s innocence and beauty? Whenever we see an infant it is natural for us to gush with affection. Babies bring so much joy and hope into our world.
Today’s gospel speaks of two women who are filled with joy because of the children they are carrying in their wombs. The older woman, Elizabeth, is very old but pregnant with her first child. All her life she was considered cursed because of her inability to conceive. Her neighbors probably whispered behind her back speculating about what sin she may have committed to be so abandoned by God. Now after years of prayer and far past her natural ability to bear children, she is blessed with a son. It is clearly a miracle and cause for rejoicing.
The other woman, Mary, is much younger - a mere teenager. Her life is turned upside down by the appearance of an angel declaring to her that she will be the mother of the Savior. The announcement confuses her and fills her with dread. What does it mean? How can it even be possible? However, once the reality sets in and it becomes clear to her that the angel’s words were true, she too becomes filled with joy and exclaims, “God has done great things for me!”
Both women, Elizabeth and Mary, despite their differences are signs of hope that God can do the unexpected and the impossible. And it starts not with vast armies, not with political maneuvering and not by awesome displays of power. Rather it starts with two babies conceived in silence and carried in the wombs of two humble women.
Our life of faith both as individuals and as a Church is much like the exchange we see between these two women in today’s gospel.
Like them, none of us here is famous or influential. For the most part, what we do or say in the course of a given day goes unnoticed. Yet there is a light of faith we carry around within us that is explosive enough to set the world on fire. We received it at our baptism, we nourish it through prayer and the sacraments and we put it to use through our good works. Just as Mary carried Jesus in her womb we carry Him in our hearts through faith. It may seem impossible that the God who created the universe dwells within us and works through us. However, with God all things are possible.
Many of us are like Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. We can often feel that we have been abandoned by God. We can wonder why our Heavenly Father has not answered our fervent prayers. We may ask ourselves what it is we could have done to deserve having to suffer silently for so long. However, like Elizabeth, we should take courage. God has a plan. He wants to do great things in and through us. If he has delayed in answering our prayers it is because He has something in mind that is greater than we could ever hope for or imagine. We can only wait patiently as His plan unfolds, the way a pregnant woman waits patiently for her child to be born.
As we reflect on the joy that babies bring us, we should not forget one reality. Not all women welcome the news that they are pregnant with delight and exuberance. For many women, discovering they are going to have a child brings with it fear, shock and sometimes even embarrassment. Depending on their situation, they may worry about how they can afford another child, what it will mean for their jobs or how their parents will react.
Mary and Elizabeth have something to say to these women as well. As amazed as she was at her pregnancy, Elizabeth must have also worried. Being an older woman, what would the pregnancy mean for her health? What effect would it have on her aging body? Once her child was born, how would she have the energy to get up in the middle of the night and chase him around in the middle of the day? After being childless for so long, what would having a son to look out for mean for her marriage?
To some extent, Mary’s situation is much the same for many young women in our society. She was not married when the angel announced to her she would become pregnant with Jesus. What would it mean for her relationship with Joseph? How would she explain it to her family? It was perhaps because of these questions that Saint Luke tells us she “made haste” to make the trip to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, in the hill country.
As a people who value life, we should always make haste to help women who find themselves in difficult pregnancies. Not only should we not judge them or gossip about them, we should make real efforts to give them what they need to settle their fears and welcome the gift of life growing within them.
We can always turn to Mary. She understands every situation a woman and mother could find herself in. She knows what it is to have a difficult pregnancy, to have her child be lost for three days, and to have her child be killed. We can be assured that she understands and that she will pray for us.
We often say when a woman is pregnant that she is “expecting.” As a people of faith and hope, we are also expecting. We are waiting with joyful hope for the coming of our Savior. We are living with eyes wide open in search of His presence among us. In just a few short days we will celebrate His birth with adoration and gladness. God is within us and among us just as He promised. Let us bring Him into the world, despite the difficulties, so that everyone may share our happiness.