Today’s readings: Micah 5, 1-4; Hebrews 10, 5-10; Luke 1, 39-44.
There is deep inspiration in the icon of the visitation in today’s gospel. St Luke portrays Mary and Elizabeth as sacred spaces of God’s presence in history. In the Ark of the Old Covenant, God dwelt in the midst of His people spiritually, while in Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant, He comes to dwell with His people physically.
This encounter between Mary and Elizabeth is a powerful manifestation of the Spirit, it is almost an anticipation of Pentecost, where God’s promises find fulfilment and where humanity is redeemed. These two strong women represent the hope of Israel that did not die. They are a stimulus for us today not to let our hope in a new humanity fade away.
How can we speak sensibly today of Jesus Christ as saviour of humanity? And speaking of salvation, what does it signify for today’s human and global narrative? Is there still hope, and how can we keep it alive? These may basically sound like questions that pertain to religion, yet they ultimately address our hope in a new humanity beyond the confines of religion.
The issue of ‘salvation’ is first and foremost about the survival of humanity and the entire creation. Elizabeth and Mary represent an end and a beginning respectively in the history of God’s dealings with Israel. They make us ask how we may keep hope alive and serve as a link between what we received from the past and what we are transmitting to the emerging generations.
The Christmas narrative in Bethlehem, far from the glories of the temple religion, secularises God’s presence in the world. This finds confirmation in today’s second reading from the letter to Hebrews which speaks of a God different from the God of our religion. It speaks of a God who “did not want what the Law lays down, that is, the sacrifices, the oblations, the holocausts, and the sacrifices for sins”. It speaks of an old religion that, with Christ, is substituted by a new one – one that is different from that we’ve been brought up with.
It was only within the context of religious practice that we can imagine our search for God. Yet today’s Scriptures and the Christmas event itself tell us what true worship consists of and point to the incarnation as the ultimate sacred space where we can encounter the God we seek and we need.
God in Christ assumed our own human nature and it is through our very human nature that He encounters us, not beyond or in spite of it. The human condition, with all its complexities and predicaments, becomes the space of God’s presence and manifestation. Elizabeth and Mary in the gospel represent the painful gestation not just of two boys to be born, but rather of the great promises of salvation in their being fulfilled.
The parable of our salvation, where both humanity and the entire creation are concerned, refers to the full immersion of God in the world and in bodily form through Mary. Salvation is no longer a mere philosophical or theological concept. It is God’s presence and touch in the here and now of our stories; it is the way God regenerates creation and instills new hope in the human project.
The incarnation is God’s language and way of connecting historically with creation. In this way, the evolution of history itself is pregnant with the redeeming Spirit of God. This same history, which we often judge as secularised, perhaps even atheistic or indifferent to the divine, becomes the very space where we are challenged to discern God’s footprints.
The lesson we get from the Christmas story is that God always enters history from the back door. We cannot remain prisoners to our old religious frames of mind because the rhythms of God’s salvation cross the boundaries of religions. The Christmas message is about God’s passionate love for humankind and His creation, making it a message of universal significance.
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