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Fourth Sunday of Advent


Saint Margaret’s Anglican Episcopal Church Budapest, Hungary Micah 5:2-5a; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45, (46-55) In those days, Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country... We Christians tend to be, by and large, a restless lot, it seems to me; never entirely happy where we are, never quite content to just sit still and be, but always in some measure on the move, even ironically if we never leave home. We readily speak for instance of our spiritual journey. Some of us may even keep a spiritual journal, a kind of log-book of our inner peregrinations of the soul. Others of us go on a retreat or, God forbid, on a crusade. Even the earliest Christians often called their newly embraced faith, the way, or the path. The New Testament itself is replete with metaphors and tales of journey, pilgrimage, and mission. Think of John the Baptist, who makes a cameo appearance in today’s Gospel text, later in life heading for the desert. Or think of Paul’s missionary travels around the ancient Mediterranean world as recounted in his Letters and the Acts of the Apostles. He was a man constantly on the go. And the Gospels themselves have sometimes been described as essentially travelogues of Jesus’ journeys from his home in Nazareth in Galilee to Jerusalem and Calvary. So it should come as no surprise to find Mary on a journey today in our account from the very first chapter of the Gospel of Luke. In fact, as best I can tell, her trip from Nazareth to the hill country of Judea is the first actual journey recounted in any of the Gospels or indeed the entire New Testament. No sooner does Mary meet the Angel Gabriel and give her assent to his message that she will be the Mother of the Son of God than, it seems, she heads out the door “with haste.” Did she perhaps leave a note for Joseph: Hi Honey, you will have to get your own supper for the next three months. Did she pack a suitcase...? Check-in luggage or carry-on only...? In any case, her stay-at-home existence in Nazareth is brought to an abrupt end. Her Yes of faith given to the Angel Gabriel now demands action and movement; demands of her a journey of faith and encounter. Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country... Keep in mind that what is narrated in Luke’s spare summary of a dozen or so words could not have been an easy excursion for Mary who was herself, presumably, pregnant with our Lord. Granted, there were no face mask requirements or Covid passports back then; but the hundred or so miles of travel to be negotiated in going from Galilee to Judea surely

represented an investment of several days’ journey time on foot or on a pack animal of some sort. Rather remarkably, Luke does not ever specifically tell us the purpose of Mary’s expedition. Nor do we learn the reason for all the haste and hurry. Perhaps her aged relative Elizabeth needed urgent assistance in her pregnancy. Perhaps there were other pressing family matters which Luke chooses not to mention. We will of course never know. But off she goes to an unnamed town in the hill country, a place which could, I suppose, double for most anyplace, Budapest perhaps. Today by the way, or in the good times at least, there is a thriving local pilgrimage industry in the Israeli village of Ein Karem, the presumed home of Elizabeth and Zechariah two thousand years ago. Mary’s arduous journey ends happily enough as she enters the house of Zechariah and greets Elizabeth. No mention in Luke of a handshake or of an embrace or hug. But Mary’s greeting at the threshold of Zechariah’s house becomes more than the simple meeting of long- separated relatives or cousins. It becomes rather an encounter and a meeting of souls; not only of Mary and Elizabeth, as important as their reunion was, but of the yet-unborn Jesus and the yet-unborn John, who leaps from joy at the sound of Mary’s voice and news of the Incarnation. This encounter becomes in a sense a meeting old and young, of what has been and what will be. It is of course also a coming together of the divine and the human, the temporal and the eternal. Mary’s journey of faith into the hill country of Judea brings her, and us, close to the heights of our own spiritual home, the heavenly Kingdom her Son ushers in. This encounter of two women so long ago brings to fruition the reality of the New Covenant of faith, a Covenant we still embrace today. We might almost say that this meeting and coming-together is the very first Christian prayer service; making Mary and Elizabeth not only mothers-to-be and cousins of old but in some sense the first ministers, perhaps the first apostles and preachers of the Gospel; the first two people to proclaim the Good News that God has indeed visited his people, as Mary has visited Elizabeth. He has come to live among them, not only for three months, not even just for some thirty-three years. But forever. Mary and Elizabeth represent all of us, all that the Church is. Poor; yet rich in blessing. Unknown and hidden from the world; yet proclaimed far and wide. Vulnerable; yet strong and full of grace and power. Their encounter is our encounter. For faith, as Mary demonstrates, cannot be lived in isolation. It demands action, and it demands encounter. If we had nothing left of the Gospels but the meeting of these two women, their greetings and prayers, we would still be able to understand the essence of the Gospel which Mary’s Son has come to teach us. In Mary’s fateful journey, God’s love and mercy reach even Elizabeth’s dusty Judean village. It reaches Budapest and point between and beyond. It reaches us as well. So, be mindful and respectful of who you meet and greet this day. It could be Mary or Elizabeth in disguise. Or perhaps more likely, it could be Mary’s Son. His voyage, his arrival, has after all changed everything. Reason enough for each of us, like the John in hos mother’s womb, to leap for joy.

Amen. The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs

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