Homily from the 4th Sunday of Advent, 2009
(Note: I gave this homily 3 years ago and decided to publish it for the weekend because I am not sure that I will have a chance to post this year's with Christmas following so quickly.)
My sister is just about 6 months pregnant, so we’ve begun in earnest what I call the “torment the baby” stage. My brother was the perpetrator this past week when I was home to help decorate the tree – trying to feel the baby move: “Hey, he just kicked!” “Wait, is that his head… or his foot?” My sister gets right into it too, poking around – that poor kid is going to be scarred for life:
I thought we were supposed to be playing classical music and stuff.
Pregnancy – it is a fascinating and beautiful time: for men, anyway.
It’s so incredible, so mysterious how life begins and then gradually takes shape inside the womb.
When a woman is pregnant it can’t help but be a time of great hope and expectation and yet also a time of anxiety and challenge.
And isn’t it also a time of premonition and intuition?
How many of you mothers out there could say that you noticed things during pregnancy about your child that were later confirmed after you gave birth?
Every pregnancy is different and unique because each child is, and even while in the womb each child establish a relationship with his or her mother that is distinct from any other relationship.
From the very moment of conception our mother’s lives were changed: some of us made our mothers more nauseous, some less; some gave their mothers incredible appetites, some not as much; some of us helped them put on lots of weight, or maybe not as much – the patters of sleep, the chemical fluctuations, the whole thing: none of that was random or by chance: a baby begins to influence his or her mother’s life from day 1, from the moment of conception.
We often, I think, focus on the pain and trauma involved in giving birth and we forget about the 9 months that precede it – 9 months that every mother experiences differently: some suffer through and others seem to go along un-phased. But no matter what child and his or her mother live the journey of pregnancy together, it is unarguable that a completely unique and intimate bond exists between them.
Mary was no different. She carried our Lord for 9 months – and perhaps you could say that during that time no human being was ever closer to God. A microscopic membrane in the placenta was the only thing that separated her blood and his – he breathed through her, he ate through her, he drank through her.
Sometimes Mary has been referred to as Mediatrix of all Graces: and to some the title is controversial – but perhaps they forgot those nine months, when she, like every human mother, was her child’s mediatrix with the world – the vessel through which he interacted with reality. Jesus lived 33 years and 9 months –
and the first 9 months he lived were no less real than those that followed, they were no less a part of his mission, even if they were lived in secrecy.
In today’s gospel we hear of the graced encounter between two holy, pregnant women, Mary and Elizabeth – women who carry within them this great secret that is about to be revealed.
And the gospel shows them both to be intimately aware and connected to their sons. Already at this early date, before either child had taken a breath, their mothers knew the treasure they carried within them – they knew the joy, the blessing that eagerly waited in Mary’s womb to be unleashed on this earth at Jesus’ birth.
And the babies were not oblivious either. John leapt when he sensed Jesus’ approach. I have no idea what that would feel like – to have a baby leap in your womb – very weird. It’s a level of intimacy that no man can understand, a bond he cannot fathom. And yet we must try, because we know that God wants to be that close to us…
Because when, through the complex web time and space, the Lord brought forth human beings from the clay and decided that the female should carry her child for 9 months before giving birth, he was thinking of Mary. And he was thinking of those nine months that he would dwell within the womb of his own creature – of the nine months that he would listen to her heart beat and hear her gentle voice speak to him in the darkness. And he was thinking about how he would spend 33 years working to extend that closeness he would have with his mother to all of humanity – how he would eventually give his life over for all, pour himself out to the last drop so that he could become food – food that would allow him to dwell with us and make us pregnant with his life, so that we too could give birth to his kingdom in the world.
What a plan – what a way to redeem us – he must have had a hard time waiting for Christmas.