December 21, 2014 - 4TH SUNDAY OF ADVENT :

LUKE 1:25-38

One of the many topics mentioned in the Gospels that we would like to have more historical information on is the relations between our Lord in his hidden life and his relative, John the Baptist. The Gospel we have just heard makes it evident that there was a profound affinity of spirit between these two holy children.  Their mutual affinity manifested itself already in a highly remarkable way already when both were in the womb.  We are told that Elizabeth was pregnant with John six months when Mary conceived our Savior.  It is a recognized fact that the fetus begins to express some signs of activity shortly before six months in the form of moving its legs with sufficient force for the mother to experience it as "alive and kicking" so that the awareness of its personal presence is intensified for the mother.   The healthy, loving mother experiences an increment of responsibility for the well-being of the new life she carries within her.  She becomes more aware of what mother hood entails in the concrete once the infant makes its living presence felt.  This fresh awareness took place for Elizabeth upon her encounter with Mary who was carrying with her womb the freshly conceived Word of God in the flesh. What is remarkable in this instance is the fact that this particular infant, John, displayed so sensitive a response to the proximity of the recently conceived Divine child.  The result was that he revealed to his mother the presence of the Savior already in the womb.  That is the message that St. Luke, the physician and evangelist, wishes to communicate to his readers.  There is already in God's plan of salvation a supernatural activity newly communicated in this world recognized and witnessed to by a prophet sent by God.

That is the title later given to Elizabeth's son by St. John at the beginning of his Gospel.  "There was a man sent by God named John.  He came to give witness so as to bear witness to the light so that all might believe through him." (John 1:6, 7).  This witnessing is so native to the person of the Baptist that it spontaneously erupted already while he was confined within his mother's womb.  When we read this passage in John's original Greek version this personal witness assumes sharper features and foreshadows the death of this prophet.  The word in Greek for witness is martyr; to give testimony is martyreso, and in this Prologue this root it is found three times.  Already in this first encounter between John and the Savior Jesus there is a strong suggestion of the meaning John's life was to embody as a witness to the truth that came into the world in the person of Jesus, Son of Mary. Not without significance is it that this passage will be read on Christmas, at the day mass, for the presence of John at this encounter between Elizabeth and Mary contains a hint of his role as a martyr to the truth that Jesus is not only the Son of Mary, but is the Son who comes as redeemer of the world.  As we arrive at this last week of Advent that prepares us for the coming birth in the flesh of Emmanuel, God with us, we are reminded in a subtle way that the witness to the fulfillment of God's plan of salvation will, in the end, include the death of the prophet.  While his testimony is a message of joyous encounter, yet it foretells in subtle language the sacrifice of these two who, each in his distinctive role, served as martyr-witness, to the plan of the God who so loved the world that he gave his only Son for our salvation.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger