From a homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, 1985, preached at Boston’s Paulist Center.
I was still a Catholic at the time; yup, women preach in Catholic churches. I did for more than 20 years. (I was on the Paulist Center staff full-time, as the equivalent of what Episcopalians call Associate Rector and Catholics call Associate Pastor.) I’m taking out the Advent-y parts in order to adapt this to today’s feast of the Visitation. I’ve put ellipses where I made cuts. The Gospel for the day was Luke 1:39-55.
And then the prophet puts up a fight. Jeremiah says he’s too young. Moses protests that he is slow of speech. Amos argues that he is only a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees. Jonah doesn’t say anything; he just runs away. Now Mary – Mary has basically the same thing happen to her, and she does ask a minor question about how this sign from God, this birth, can happen when she has no husband (she is logical!). But she doesn’t run off or avoid the call; in fact, she run toward someone to begin proclaiming what she knows to be true. And that someone is … Elizabeth, an older woman willed with new life and new hope, who is also a proclaimer of good news, a bearer of revelation.
These women are clear and strong and they articulate God’s message with no ambiguities, no ambivalence.
Enter into that Gospel scene. There is something new and different happening in this encounter between the two women. What goes on in this scene is a proclamation of cosmic proportions: a revelation of who God is, what God has done, what God is capable of going, and how the world has begun to change. But here is a different kind of prophecy – a whole different setting. We have, not a man addressing a crowd in the marketplace or preaching in a religious assembly, but two pregnant women having a conversation in the intimate setting of a house in the hills. That’s where God chooses to have the revelation happen. That’s where our scripture and our church show us that God’s revelation is proclaimed today.
And what a revelation it is.
Remember what Mary says in this Gospel: God is doing mighty things for lowly people. A woman will be called blessed forever, though she lives in a world where men rule. The mighty are deposed from their thrones. The poor and the hungry are not just satisfied, they are heard and remembered.
I think this woman is talking about a revolution.
…You may have noticed that in Mary’s song, the Magnificat, the God who is the originator of this revolution is spoken of as faithful, as one who fulfills promises, who is there from age to age, from generation to generation. The Scripture today is full of newness; it is also filled with language about faithfulness and solid promises and endurance and continuity.
… Mary and Elizabeth invite us to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit in new and different places. To change our views of the “where” and “how” of God’s revelation. One of the interesting things about the Synod of Bishops in Rome a couple of weeks ago, which some noticed and some didn’t, is that it became evident that the center of gravity in our church is shifting –from Europe and North America to the Southern Hemisphere: to countries where over half the world’s Catholics now live, to people who are mostly poor, mostly brown and black and tan, mostly young. They are blessing us with new insights into our church and our world. Mary… who sings of the world turned upside down, invites us to see God in new places: to hear the voices and welcome the insights of the lowly; of those who live on the other side of town or on the wrong side of the tracks; of the most poor; of women; of the people of the Southern hemisphere; of the very young; and of the very old; of all the forgotten and marginal ones in church and society who are, in God’s scheme of things, at the heart, at the center, of the revolution of Jesus.
Mary and Elizabeth invite us to change the way we think about prophecy and revelation, to understand that the good news is revealed in settings where we least expect it. The prophet Micah talks about this also in today’ s readings; if it can happen in Bethlehem, it can happen here, and it can happen to you and to me.
The powerful, joyful, revolutionary message from God about the world being changed and filled with grace is proclaimed –where? In a house, probably in a kitchen conversation between two pregnant women. I think this says something to us about our kitchen conversations, and our workshops and offices and classrooms and bedrooms and boardrooms, and all the places which we don’t think of as places of revelation and revolution, but which are.
This scene also invites us to sit with its mixture of the new and the old, and to examine, in our lives, the old and the new: the continuity of tradition, the age-old celebrations, the family patterns, the old promises. And the breaking in of the new, the parts of our lives where we can and must create new ways of being and proclaiming and celebrating.
Most of all… Mary and Elizabeth invite us to spend our time with them with joyful hearts. This is no grimfaced revolution. This is the revolution of God who frees women to cy out and sing, the revolution of Jesus who is our peace, the revolution of the Spirit who speaks to us with power and grace, again and again, and who can make of us all bearers of hope and new life.