Cradle and cross are inextricably connected on the fourth Sunday of Advent. Between a lovely tribute to the little town of Bethlehem and Mary’s magnificent song of praise, the letter to the Hebrews reminds us in no uncertain terms that Christ’s advent is for “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” It is the kind of tension in which the church always lives as when in holy communion—with high delight—“we proclaim the Lord’s death.”
Readings and Psalms
- Micah 5:2-5a
From Bethlehem comes a ruler
- Luke 1:46b-55
You, Lord, have lifted up the lowly. (Lk. 1:52)
- Hebrews 10:5-10
I have come to do your will
- Luke 1:39-45
Blessed are you among women / My soul magnifies the Lord
Being Recognized, Encountering Christ
Often called the visitation, the encounter between Mary and Elizabeth is full of joy, recognition, gratitude, and blessing. Luke immediately follows the annunciation with Mary’s journey to visit Elizabeth, who gives this unmarried pregnant girl not only a safe haven but also the first glimpse of what it means to be the mother of the Savior. The encounter is full of mystery and grace: the mystery of new life forming but still invisible, and the grace of recognizing each other as the Spirit-filled mothers they are becoming.
The story is also full of theological gravity: as the women encounter each other, so do Jesus and John the Baptist. Yet the theological meaning is almost overshadowed by the sheer physicality of the encounter. Imagine the hasty travel, demonstrative greeting, joyful exclamation, the unborn John leaping for joy, and robust singing. As the celebration of Christ’s birth approaches, the four active and responsive bodies in this text remind us that this is, after all, the incarnation itself unfolding.
God becomes a body in Jesus, and that body will be offered up for the sake of the world. This body, recognized already by John in the womb, will eventually undergo the suffering and shame of death on a cross. Without losing sight of that big picture, today we enter into the up-close picture of Mary and Elizabeth’s encounter and share in the joy and gratitude they have in common with all who recognize Christ in their neighbor.