|A most innovative depiction of all four participants in the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth, from one or both for the brothers Jakob and Hans Strub, early 16th century German artists.|
When I was a growing up in Alabama, on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Morn my family would pile into the car for Christmas Mass and travel more than twenty minutes to get to our Catholic church. As we drove, we would pass church after church that was dark and empty, nary a car in the lot.
These were the Baptist, Methodist, and Church of Christ communities to which most of my school friends belonged. I was slackjawed when they told me that they did not go to church on Christmas. How, then, did they celebrate Christmas? Well, they explained, mainly they did it on the Sunday before Christmas, though they decked their halls and sang their seasonal songs all through December.
It turned out that our Protestant brethren, especially those touched by the imperative finger of John Calvin, didn’t keep holidays – ANY of them – and worshipped only on Sundays. Who knew? Man are you missing out, I tried to explain to them, and I thought principally of the raucous joy of keeping Christmas Day holy.
That thought comes back to me know, but on this weekend when so many of them are already knee-deep in Christmas, and we are at the height of Advent. Man are you missing out, if you don’t have Advent.
Christmas is a birth, after all, and we all know that before a birth come preparation and expectation. Advent gives us God’s preparation, through all the prophets and John the Baptist, and our expectation, through the groaning of the people Israel that prefigures the Church. And this weekend, Advent lets us spend time with the expectant mother.
Here at Saint Bernadette (“Saint B, where the ‘B’ stands for ‘baby,”as Father Nick Zientarski so aptly put it years ago, and many visitors have observed since), we know from babies. And we are no stranger to expectant moms.
We know that the Blessed Virgin Mary is no bit-player in the diorama of ox and ass and shepherd, all kneeling piously around the radiant child glowing from his feed-trough crib. No; she is a principal, in the language of the theatre, and so a principal in the drama of our salvation and our lives. And this weekend we spend time with her, because we can learn from her, and we can get to know her.
Mary’s life both before and after that day when she shares the stable and the spotlight with her Divine Son are all about Him, and because of that, they are also all for us. Her every act of obedience to God (I am the handmaid of the Lord) is an act of charity toward us. Her every word to her Son (They have no wine) is on our behalf. Her every maternal care (Woman, behold your son) is for us, who make up the Church.
An expectant mom nine months along is ready, so ready for the coming of her child, but already enjoys an intimacy with him, already feeds and cares for him, already knows him in the secret recesses of her heart. This intimate union, this expectant love, is Mary’s gift to the Church who keeps her company in anticipation or that day when the Salvation of the World will be manifested in her child.
We and our Christmas celebrations can wait for that arrival and that day, just like Mary and Joseph waited for that arrival and that day. The world will celebrate what it wants and when it wants, but for us who keep Advent, the birth will only be more delightful for us who know and keep company with the Mother.