4th Sunday of Advent: The greatest gift of all. (Luke 1:39-45)
During the Christmas and New Year Season, many of us will be visiting our families and friends to share Christmas and New Year wishes and joy. During these visits, we will be exchanging happy and healthy wishes, for the New Year and exchanging gifts, appreciation, and affection. For some people, these visits can be delightful or painful!
On this fourth Sunday of Advent, we heard the story of two pregnant women, Mary and Elizabeth. We saw Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth and spend time with her. This “visitation” of Mary is significant for many reasons. When Mary “visited” Elizabeth, what gift did she bring to her? Mary did not bring any wrapped presents, no Hallmark card, or fruitcakes, or chocolates, or wine gift baskets, or any other gifts. Mary brought only an “unwrapped heart and a comforting presence.” Mary gave Elizabeth the gift of her very presence! Dear friends, this is the best and the hardest gift of all to give. It is easy to send flowers, or Christmas cards, or any other gifts; but to give the gift of ourselves, to make the time to be with somebody is the greatest gift that many people are longing for during this Christmas.
As a hospital chaplain, I feel myself gifted and blessed whenever I “visit” patients and their families at the hospital. I can feel how eagerly patients are waiting for “visits” from the doctors, hoping to hear good news. Following Mary’s example in today’s Gospel story, let us try to give our sacred presence, our time, our affirmations, encouragements, support, peace, and joy to our families, spouses, children, and friends. These are the greatest gifts because their value cannot be calculated in terms of money.
“Mary’s gift of presence” to Elizabeth shows us, instead of looking after our own time and convenience; we should seek the needs of other persons. It was not convenient for Mary to travel the lonely and dangerous road from Galilee to the hill country of Judea; it was a very difficult and challenging task for Mary. As soon as Mary heard that Elizabeth was six months pregnant, Mary went immediately, stayed with Elizabeth for three months, and took care of all her needs until Elizabeth gave birth. Mary gave Elizabeth what she needed, the gift of caring and loving presence; that was the perfect gift.
Let me share with you a small story: A woman came out of her house and saw 3 old men with long white beards, sitting in her front yard. She said, “I don’t think I know you, but you must be hungry. Please come in and have something to eat.” They asked, “Is your husband at home?”. “No”, she said. “He’s out.” “Then we cannot come in”, they replied. In the evening, when her husband came home, she told him what had happened. “Go tell them I am home and invite them in!” The woman went out and invited the men in. “We do not go into a House together,” they replied. “Why is that?” she wanted to know. One of the old men explained: “His name is Wealth,” he said pointing to one of his friends, and said pointing to another one, “He is Success, and I am Love.” Then he added, “Now go in and discuss with your husband which one of us you want in your home.”
The woman went in and told her husband what was said. Her husband was overjoyed. “How nice!!”, he said. “Since that is the case, let us invite Wealth. Let him come and fill our home with wealth!” His wife disagreed. “My dear, why don’t we invite Success?” Their daughter-in-law was listening from the other corner of the house. She jumped in with her own suggestion: “It is better to invite Love. Our home will then be filled with love!” “Let us listen to our daughter-in-law’s advice,” said the husband to his wife. “Go out and invite Love to be our guest.”
The woman went out and asked the 3 old men, “Which one of you is Love? Please come in and be our guest.” Love got up and started walking toward the house. The other 2 also got up and followed him. Surprised, the lady asked Wealth and Success: “I only invited Love, why are you coming in?” The old men replied together: “If you had invited Wealth or Success, the other two of us would have stayed out, but since you invited Love, wherever He goes, we go with him. Wherever there is Love, there is also Wealth and Success!”
Christmas is all about the celebration of Love and Christmas is time for giving the gift of love! Let us share the gift of love along with Christmas hope and cheer. Let us give words of faith and encouragement, and be kind. Everyone can be kind! May our joy and laughter be the hallmark of the Christmas season. The seasons come and go, but the simple gift of love lasts a lifetime!
The other thing we can notice in the Gospel is that when Mary visited Elizabeth – Mary’s presence made great joy not only for Elizabeth; but also, in her womb, the infant leaped for joy. Because Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit and Mary was carrying the Baby Jesus in her womb, too. The presence of Jesus also made extra joy to Elizabeth and the child in her womb. Today our challenging question is: Does my presence make others happy or not, especially to my family members, friends, community, and wherever we are?
We are called to bring Jesus’ presence to others as Mary did. Christmas is a perfect time for us to be filled with the Holy Spirit and allow Jesus’ rebirth in our own hearts and our own families. Once Jesus is reborn in our hearts, Jesus will enable us to share the gifts of love, peace, and joy with our brothers and sisters; this is the real spirit and the best gift for Christmas!