A Leap for Joy – The Fourth Sunday of Advent
From his place in Elizabeth’s womb, John the Baptist shows his innate response to the child within the womb of Mary of Nazareth. The child leaped for joy. Elizabeth exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.”
We know that infants in the womb are sensitive to the behaviour and disposition of their mother. Her lifestyle habits have a lasting effect. So too does the emotional and spiritual disposition of a pregnant woman have an impact on the child in her womb.
Based on all we know about John and Jesus, it seems clear that both Mary and her cousin were prayerful and serene women, while also possessing strength and vision. Without understanding the dynamics of the parts they would play, both humbly agreed to participate in the Trinity’s plan of salvation.
Don’t mistake their humility for weakness and passive acquiescence. Elizabeth said, “This is what the Lord has done for me.” After John’s birth, his father Zechariah says, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High: for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.”
Mary offers her famous Magnificat, her song of praise to the Lord. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” They may not have known what the specifics of their availability meant, but they knew that they were responding to God.
John’s leaping is not just influenced by his mother’s physical and emotional disposition or by his father’s holiness. It is his natural response to Jesus. He sensed the spiritual power of the child with Mary. From the womb, John was being prepared for the significant role he played in the ministry of Jesus – preparing others to recognize the Lord.
Mary and Elizabeth were strong women who passed that strength on to their sons. Both men spent time in the wilderness before starting their public ministry, no doubt growing in an appropriation of all that was handed on from their upbringing.
We read that John, “grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.” Jesus also grew and became strong, “filled with wisdom; and the favour of the Lord was upon him.” His baptism by John was followed by the forty days of temptation and growth in the wilderness.
These periods of spiritual testing and growth were important for the itinerant ministries that these two men carried out.
What about us? We are no longer in the womb. Nor are we innocent about the equally beautiful and harsh realities of human life and engagement with the world, but we can still leap (if not physically, at least spiritually).
When do we spontaneously leap at the experience of the presence of the Lord? When are we surprised by a moment of joy or hope? How can those moments strengthen us for the dark times? On our final stage of the movement to the birth of Christ, let’s cherish those Advent moments of recognizing the Lord.